Teaching in a new normal

Kathy Kern teaching in front of whiteboard

The order came down fast and furious.

On Wednesday, March 11, U-M President Mark Schlissel emailed the U-M community with instructions for faculty to convert classes online for the remainder of the semester to help “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of COVID-19.

The university was going fully online beginning Monday, March 16, leaving faculty and graduate teaching assistants only two days to prepare to teach in a new, virtual environment.

For faculty members like Kathy Kern, a lecturer in Applied Exercise Science and Movement Science, it was a whirlwind trying to move her AES 332: Principles of Motor Behavior lab class online.

“That Thursday and Friday, it was beyond difficult…we didn’t know what our tools were, and I’ve never used them before,” Kathy said. “The learning curve with BlueJeans, then switching to Zoom, then trying to figure out how to record and get them online. All of those transitional things were difficult, but once I figured it out, it was fine. I slid right into it.”

She was able to use her dining room table and a whiteboard to conduct her classes.

Kathy was even able to find the silver lining in this new situation: she had students’ families contribute to the class by measuring their dynamic and static balance.

“Because the students were at home, my dataset has age ranges I would never be able to get otherwise,” Kathy explained. “In this dataset, I’ve got four individuals that are between 60 and 69, five individuals between 40 and 59, and seven individuals between 20 and 29. In a standard lab, I am measuring all 20-year-olds. So we were able to get data on an older set and look and see if there were any age differences. It made for some unique conversation.”

Typically Kathy does the assessments in class. This time, with the families participating, the students took charge and experienced something their typical lab couldn’t offer. From Kathy’s perspective, the students gained a deeper understanding of why these clinical tests are done.

For Allyssa Memmini, a graduate teaching assistant in Athletic Training, trying to figure out how to move two labs online, AT 217: Clinical Evaluation of Lower Extremity Athletic Injuries Lab and AT 221: Applied Human Anatomy Laboratory, was daunting.

“For AT 221, we tried to take as many demonstration videos as we could so students could see the different layers of muscles, even if they’re not physically touching the structures,” Allyssa said.

Normally AT 217 students perform the evaluations as partners to fine-tune their skills.

“My students aren’t able to practice on each other, so I was just trying to get as creative as I could in terms of using clinical case scenarios and doing more of a decision-making skill-based pedagogy,” she explained.

Allyssa voice-recorded her AT 217 lectures to help students understand the different muscle components and gave clinical case scenarios as examples. She, along with the other class instructors, filmed themselves going through the different muscle, bone, and cadaver models to help students understand the material better. She also established additional drop-in office hours during her normal class times in case students had questions. 

While Ron Wade, a clinical assistant professor in Sport Management, didn’t have to transition a lab online, he did have to rework three classes - SM 444: Sales Management in the Sport Industry, SM 313: Social Media Marketing in Sport, and SM 313: Experiential Marketing in Sport. Ron said his biggest challenge was changing his lectures because he structures them around scenarios and discussions.

Ron’s sales management class had just begun discussing leads for corporate and premium sales and how to perform those calls. Usually, he would present his students with a client and they would practice in class. Instead, he gave out the leads ahead of time and had a class discussion before launching into his lecture.

When it came time for final project presentations, Ron was able to have Zoom meetings with representatives from the Detroit Grand Prix, Pepsi, and U-M Recreational Sports.

“They were all very pleased with what the students put together and were quite impressed that they were able to do this, especially considering all the upheaval in their lives, having to move from campus back home,” Ron said.

He said going through this experience taught him a few things that he could incorporate into future classes.

“I liked that I could do certain quizzes and assignments and have them graded through Canvas as opposed to handing them out on paper and doing it old school,” Ron said. “So there are a couple of things this situation has forced me to adjust and I think it will actually benefit me in the long run, and it’s going to benefit my students as well.”

Allyssa feels this online transition will benefit future students because she now has extra resources at her disposal. “I’m always looking for new ways to help them learn and on different types of platforms, whether that be videos or worksheets or things like that,” she explained.

Kathy thinks it’s a big plus that parents are able to see their child’s classes first-hand. “If I’m a parent and my son or daughter is doing their school online at home, I’m able to see what they are doing. I know I’m getting my money’s worth,” she said. “I think a lot of parents liked that they could see real-time and partake in their student’s education. They know their students are still actively learning, and they were able to be a part of it and understand what it was.”