A summer of faculty learning
Wofford faculty learned a lot from the quick switch to remote learning in the spring, and they’ve learned even more since.
“The spring was about surviving until the end of the semester,” says Dr. Dan Mathewson, associate provost for faculty development and associate professor of religion. Dr. Anne Catlla, director of the Center for Innovation and Learning and associate professor of mathematics, called it “triage teaching and triage faculty development.” By the summer, with student feedback in hand, faculty were mobilizing for a different experience in the fall.
According to Mathewson, students faced three broad types of challenges during the spring semester.
- Equity issues immediately rose to the top. Some students lacked adequate technology. Some also experienced food insecurity or unsafe living spaces. (The Office of Student Success and the Office of the Chaplain immediately worked to address those needs.)
- Many students experienced an unanticipated level of physical and mental fatigue. Students who were not accustomed to learning from home found it hard to carve out time and space for academic pursuits while juggling family responsibilities. Students and faculty alike also struggled with the effects of too much screen time.
- Finally, every student, even if they escaped the effects of the first two challenges, faced a sense of loss and grief. Leaving campus abruptly meant losing interaction with friends and missing out on milestone events. On a day-to-day basis, students missed out on the formal and informal interactions that happen simply as a result of living and studying together.
“These challenges created a different context for learning, not just at Wofford, but across higher education,” says Mathewson.
Led by Catlla, Wofford’s Center for Innovation and Learning worked to develop strategies for blended — online, hybrid and in-person — learning. Technology became critical, but it didn’t replace best pedagogical practices.
“We learned early on that we needed to turn the conversation from technology to pedagogy. We’re all teachers first,” says Dr. John Miles, dean of institutional effectiveness and academic planning and associate professor of English. “The workshops we did over the summer were about thinking explicitly about courses, even courses that have been taught for years.”
The results included innovative assignments, retooled learning objectives and a new awareness of the complications involved in teaching with masks or behind plexiglass barriers and without the same kinds of small-group engagement options that were available before COVID-19. Professors who were accustomed to teaching in the same classrooms also had to transition to different locations.
The professionals in Information Technology Services helped make the process easier.
“All Wofford classrooms now look alike as far as technology goes,” says Martin Aigner, instructional technologist. “This is unheard of, but it’s really beneficial for faculty to walk into any classroom and see the same situation.”
The collaboration between ITS and the CIL yielded trainings and workshops that incorporated teaching and technology. Many faculty gained new proficiencies in Moodle, a learning management system; Perusall for student reading; EdPuzzle to create videos and Zoom to engage with students remotely.
“Good teaching is good teaching, regardless of the modality you’re using,” says Catlla. “We’re still providing structure, communications and community. When we’re face to face in the classroom together, this happens naturally. Now we just have to be more intentional about it. Faculty have embraced this with student learning and the student experience in mind.”
According to Catlla, almost 100 faculty attended CIL trainings over the summer so they would be prepared for an uncertain fall.
“We keep telling ourselves and each other that no one has ever done this. We can’t find the expert. There is no expert, but when you put all of us in a room, there’s a lot of experience with teaching and learning,” says Miles. “We will continue to meet challenges we’ve never seen, but our teaching and focus on student learning can be stable regardless of those changes.”
Welcoming new faculty
DR. AARON HARP
assistant professor of music
DR. RACHEL GROTHEER
assistant professor of mathematics
DR. SMRITI BHARGAVA
assistant professor of economics
DR. MUHAMMAD VELJI
James A. and Susan K. Keller Fellow in Philosophy
DR. GILLIAN YOUNG
assistant professor of art and art history
DR. INGRID LILLY
assistant professor of religion
DR. KYLE RICHARDSON
assistant professor of psychology
DR. JIM STEVENS
assistant professor of finance
DR. GRACE SCHWARTZ
assistant professor of chemistry
DR. MAYA FEIN
assistant professor of theatre
DR. TAYLOR BRORBY
assistant professor of environmental studies
DR. JENNIFER BRADHAM
assistant professor of environmental studies
DR. ZHE YANG
assistant professor of economics
Imagine moving and changing jobs during COVID-19. Meeting new colleagues for the first time behind masks. Meeting via Zoom instead of in person. Settling into a new home and a new office without co-workers or neighbors popping in to say hi or drop off a plant. This fall 13 new faculty members joined the community, and a group of Wofford faculty, including Dr. Jeremy Henkel, associate professor of philosophy; Dr. Kimberly Hall, assistant professor of English; and Dr. Lori Cruze, assistant professor of biology, put a lot of extra effort into their induction as Terriers.
“New faculty onboarding is something we’ve done really well in the past,” says Henkel, who directs new faculty teaching initiatives through the CIL. This year the group knew they couldn’t wait until August, and they knew they would have to be even more intentional than ever in their efforts. Even before the full week of orientation and training in August, Wofford faculty held two Zoom meetings with new faculty over the summer. By the time classes started, new faculty knew each other and many of their Wofford colleagues. They became comfortable with Wofford’s technology and course management systems and even received tips on best local hiking trails, restaurants and places to get an oil change.
“This is an incredible group of new faculty,” says Henkel. “Now they know what’s coming and what questions to ask. We’re excited that they’re a part of our community.”
Students form COVID-19 Response Team
When Elena Pulanco ’22 arrived on campus in late August, she had not seen anyone but family for five months. The art history and sociology and anthropology major with a concentration in studio art from Englewood, N.J., was eager to be back at Wofford with her women’s basketball teammates, but she also understood what was at stake.
“I knew that following the guidelines and procedures would be essential to enjoy time with professors, teammates, friends and coaches,” she says. That’s why she volunteered to serve on the COVID-19 Student Response Team.
The plan to bring Wofford back together in the fall began in the spring. President Nayef Samhat commissioned groups of faculty and staff to develop health and safety guidelines and to look at a variety of calendar options. Protocols began to form around classroom, dining, residence life and move-in and orientation safety, and students were recruited to vet the plan and share their thoughts on the best way to engage their peers.
“Students know the most effective ways to communicate with each other, so we all knew that getting them involved was the key to success,” says Mary Carman Jordan ’13, director of admission events and a member of the working group planning Wofford’s return to on-campus learning in the fall. “The students reviewed the Wofford Together plan, made recommendations and drafted a student pledge. The team also communicated the importance of following the plan in a series of social media videos and messages to the campus community.”
The video series includes two Zoom conversations in which a group of students discuss the Wofford Together plan while sharing how they were preparing to return to campus by divvying up the purchase of cleaning supplies with roommates and quarantining at home two weeks before returning to campus while watching NBA games and Hulu.
“I’m kind of sad,” says Jalen Carter ’21, a pre-law psychology and sociology and anthropology major with a minor in philosophy from Clinton, S.C., when thinking about how different college life will be. “I want to be able to do some of the college kid things, but at the same time, I’ve been deprived of Wofford for five months. You either adapt or get left behind.”
Carter, a member of the COVID-19 Student Response Team, is sharing an on-campus apartment with some friends he met during his first weekend as a student. They’re planning themed dinners, and Carter tested some of his recipes with family during the summer. One of his prized purchases for the upcoming year is a rice cooker.
“I make mean fajitas,” he says.
According to Jordan, every member of the team is a leader on campus, and their leadership, both in word and deed, has made an impact on student commitment and behavior. “We are together and having the success we are because of them. I’ve loved getting to know the students on the team better and working with them this summer.”
Hettes reflects on being back in the classroom during a pandemic
Dr. Stacey Hettes, professor of biology, concluded a six-year term as associate provost for faculty development at the conclusion of the 2019-20 academic year, but not before spending lots of late nights and early mornings helping faculty prepare for the unexpected transition to remote learning. Now she’s back in the classroom, and here’s a reflection from her experience:
“It is important when hearing reports of the impact of COVID-19 on colleges and universities that we recognize that one size does not fit all. I feel like I may have the very best situation of any professor teaching in person in the U.S. I can enter the backdoor of Milliken Science where there is a touchless hand sanitizer dispenser waiting for me. I can arrive when I can predict the hallways will be empty. My office is the only office on my hall. I teach my class and lab across the hall from my office in a space that accommodates the entire group while staying six feet apart. I am the only professor using this particular room, so I am only exposed to my two classes (36 students total). This leaves me with minimal contact and maximum flexibility for preparing modified lab activities and working with students. I can record a video of class at the touch of a button so students know if they feel they should not come to class, even out of an abundance of caution, they can readily catch up.
“I don’t say any of this to brag. I say it in recognition of the incredible privilege it is to teach at Wofford College, where grace and flexibility are the words I hear more than any other. Flexibility allowed many colleagues to teach remotely if they choose, which is what set my in-person choice up for the best possible success — that and a MONUMENTAL effort by good folks like Dan Deeter, director of business services and risk management, who chaired the college’s return to work committee; Fred Miller, chief information officer and associate vice president for information services; Dr. Trina Jones, professor and associate provost for curriculum and co-curriculum; Chris Gardner, chief financial officer; and all the good folks working with them, one of the most important of whom is a man I adore and yet we have not had occasion to learn each other’s last names, Donald — Donald, who for me embodies the entirety of our most dedicated facilities and maintenance colleagues. Donald is up and down my hall and the adjoining Great Oaks Hall the entire day to keep us safe and stocked. He’s doing what Wofford folks do, watching out for and taking care of each other.
“Even with the risk, the masks, the smell of bleach and the plexiglas, being back in the classroom has boosted my spirits. Not a single student, not one, has behaved in our shared space in a way that failed to exude respect and concern for me and each other that no face mask can hide. I trust them and myself to stay vigilant in holding these standards for the remainder of our in-person time. I am overwhelmed with gratitude in this moment for the privilege of my situation and wish every student and every teacher in every classroom throughout the world had the same opportunity.”