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College of Arts and Sciences

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Professors do ‘heroic work’ getting classes online

Two-thousand classes. 
Tens of thousands of students. 
Less than two weeks to go online. 
Professors in the University of South Carolina College of Arts and Sciences faced that challenge this month when an outbreak of COVID-19 in the state prompted the university to move all courses online for the rest of the semester. Because the college provides most of the courses in the Carolina Core, most students at the University were counting on the college to help them finish the semester strong. 
Flipping the courses online so quickly took heart, soul, and long hours, if not blood, sweat, and tears. Luckily, professors supported each other with the end goal of creating the best student experience possible. 
“Our faculty are doing heroic work,” says Pat Gerhke, an English professor well known for his expertise in teaching public speaking online. “The peer support has been incredible.” 
In the first few days of all courses being online, professors reported that the move was a challenge, but worthwhile for their students. Here are only a few examples.

Zombie time 

Talk about timing. 
When Valerie Pruett’s stage makeup design students left for spring break, their next assignment was to design makeup for a zombie character, complete with a backstory of how the character became a zombie. 
Then the COVID-19 epidemic in the state began over the break. When the students turned in their assignment with digital videos on Monday, their zombies’ post-apocalyptic backstories involved a lot of viral outbreaks. 
“The backstories today are really quite funny,” Pruett says. 

: A screenshot showing Valerie Pruett explaining the requirements of the zombie makeup assignment.

Valerie Pruett always planned to have her students create zombie makeup designs. What’s new this semester is turning them in online.

Pruett plans to create an online version of the makeup class, anyway, so she had several ideas to put into practice. Over the next few weeks, her students will watch stage makeup demonstration videos and make their own makeup designs for animals, villains, and other characters. They will use photos and videos to share their work. 
Pruett's class on period hairstyles posed a bigger challenge. Students needed wigs to work with. 
“I went back to the costume studio and got all their supplies and shipped them to their homes,” Pruett says. “They have their materials now at home and they’re doing the work.” She connects with her students for one-on-one video conferences so she can give real-time feedback as they work on a wig. 
The students will meet as a group in video conferences occasionally to maintain connection, Pruett says. “I really want it to be interactive, and I don’t want to give up on them,” she says. “I really want them to be engaged, because I feel like they need it.”  

Reaction time 

Online, there’s no way to perfectly recreate the feeling of adjusting the flame on a Bunsen burner, or pouring two chemicals together and watching the reaction. But chemistry professors are trying to provide an in-lab experience for their students as much as they can. 
Leslie Lovelace, director of undergraduate studies for chemistry and biochemistry, said professors are taking turns recording experiments in campus laboratories. 
“We show them a video of the experiment,” Lovelace says. “We zoom in on any critical information they need to gather. We’re trying to give them the experience as if they were there themselves." 
Making the videos is time intensive. On top of the usual time required to prepare for and run the labs, the instructors double-check each video clip to make sure it captured all necessary details. If not, they repeat that segment. 
“It’s not ideal, and it’s taking a lot of manpower, but we’re making it happen,” Lovelace says. 
Even though the change has required extensive hours and adjustments, the faculty have taken it in stride, Lovelace said. “I have not had a single complaint," she says. "Everybody has risen to the challenge of making it work.”

Como se dice? 

Spanish program directors Nina Moreno and Paul Malovrh mobilized an army of 40 instructors and coordinators to get all Spanish courses online for more than 2,000 students ― many of whom are taking the courses for the Carolina Core and need to achieve some proficiency to advance to the next class. 
They focused on finding ways to make the courses more interactive. “It’s not just sending a PowerPoint with content to people," Malovrh says. “You have to be able to affect the learning process.” 
Fortunately, Spanish already employ a hybrid model, so online exercises such as uploading an audio recording of students practicing Spanish, were already part of the routine. Instructors can respond to those recorded practices with written or spoken feedback. 
“Before the crisis, a lot of that was done in the classroom," Moreno says. “Now that we've moved completely to remote teaching and learning, it's not something that has been taken away completely." 
Still, without the ability for real-time feedback, the focus is shifting slightly. “We’re trying to reinforce skills such as reading and writing that can be done remotely,” she says. 
Moreno said that putting courses online requires much more effort than it looks like from the outside. But the university community came together to share resources and tools to make the change possible. 
“Everyone has been very positive,” Moreno says. 
“It’s inspiring to see people rise to the occasion,” Malovrh says.  

Speak up online 

Most speech and rhetoric faculty at UofSC have taught the university’s online public speaking course before. That helped them convert the on-campus courses onto the web quickly. 
“We have both the skillset and the resources on hand to make this transition,” Gerhke says. 
But they are not just copying the online speaking course. Instead, they are maintaining the original assignments already on the syllabus to make the transition easier for students. 
“We want them to complete the same work they have been preparing and expecting to complete all term, but provide it in a recorded or live video format,” Gerhke says. 
“As we enter the first week back from our extended spring break, our focus is on communicating with students and assuring they can make the transition with us to online learning,” he continues. “We also are asking to hear back from students about challenges and barriers they face.  Our goal is, first and foremost, to keep every student engaged and succeeding in their classes.”

Standing up for students 

Design faculty at UofSC knew that many of their students would lose access to Adobe design software when campus computer labs closed. Joined by educators from other campuses, they reached out to Adobe and insisted that the software be made available to students temporarily. 
In mid-March, Adobe agreed. 
“It was huge when Adobe responded affirmatively,” design professor Meena Khalili says. “It opened the possibility for less disruption of the student experience in a multitude of courses at the School of Visual Art and Design that use those programs.” 
As an executive board member for the national AIGA Design Educators Community, Khalili has been a resource for faculty across the nation making a quick online transition. On March 16, she joined a Design Dedux podcast about pivoting to online.
In the podcast, she speaks up again and again about the need to meet students where they are, taking note of different situations students are in ― some  have limited bandwidth, some are taking care of children who are home from school, and even religious and cultural considerations. 
At UofSC, she’s giving students flexibility about when to watch her online lectures. “What I’m doing is keeping my class times as they have been, but making those meetings optional, and asking them to meet with me (virtually) once a week,” she says. 
On April 4-5, Khalili will be a presenter in “Canceled Con,” a design conference for students around the country. 
Other faculty in the School of Visual Art and Design are finding creative ways to reach their students. Evelyn Wong, an artist in residence, is continuing with her series of workshops as a livestream online. Others are recording demo videos and coming up with new concepts for traditional art assignments.

Not surprised 

“If you remember, I warned you guys this was coming,” political science professor Katherine Barbieri told her International Relations students in an online class Tuesday. “I’ve been watching this unfold, and we’re still watching this unfold.” 
Having contacts in China and Italy, Barbieri paid attention when the COVID-19 pandemic hit those countries. Once the first case in the United States was confirmed, she predicted that UofSC would finish online. 
So she got a head start. 
Barbieri reached out to her textbook publisher and staff in the Thomas Cooper Library to arrange for new electronic resources for her students. “The library was fast to expand our digital resources,” she says. She also used the university’s “Keep Teaching” website for more resources. Staff from the Center for Teaching Excellence reached out to her multiple times to offer help. 
There were a couple of hiccups as she started her first online lecture Tuesday, but it turned out well. 
“I think many faculty were as excited as students to be back to their classes,” Barbieri says. “It was the type of excitement you feel on the first day of school. I had one amazing group of students in a large class who really seemed to bond and help each other in study groups. I was delighted to see them on video today. One of them had his dog with him.” 
Later in the class, the students realized that they could use their touch screens to draw pictures or write notes for the rest of the class. One student scrawled in large letters, “I miss USC.” 

A digital handwritten note on a document from an online class says I miss USC.”

A student’s message to the rest of the class: I miss USC.

Silver lining 

Christy Friend, director of the college’s Incubator for Teaching Innovation, helped some faculty members as they developed ways to teach online. But she also watched other professors step forward to help each other. 
She says the effort was a “silver lining” to the cloud of negative coronavirus news. 
“It has been exciting and very gratifying to me to see what a positive and collegial and creative community of faculty we have," she says. "It reminds me of people I may not cross paths with at the incubator, but who are doing absolutely outstanding work in the corners of their own disciplines. It reminds us how fortunate we all are in the College of Arts and Sciences." 

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