Tag Archive for Teaching during the pandemic

Students’ Essays on Infectious Disease Prevention, COVID-19 Published Nationwide

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More than 25 students in Fred Cohan’s Global Change and Infectious Disease course have had op-eds published in media outlets nationwide. Cohan, professor of biology and Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment (pictured), assigns the op-ed writing as part of his course and offers students extra credit if they are able to get their work published.

As part of the BIO 173: Global Change and Infectious Disease course, Professor Fred Cohan assigns students to write an essay persuading others to prevent future and mitigate present infectious diseases. If students submit their essay to a news outlet—and it’s published—Cohan awards them with extra credit.

As a result of this assignment, more than 25 students have had their work published in newspapers across the United States. Many of these essays cite and applaud the University’s Keep Wes Safe campaign and its COVID-19 testing protocols.

Cohan, professor of biology and Huffington Foundation Professor in the College of the Environment (COE), began teaching the Global Change and Infectious Disease course in 2009, when the COE was established. “I wanted very much to contribute a course to what I saw as a real game-changer in Wesleyan’s interest in the environment. The course is about all the ways that human demands on the environment have brought us infectious diseases, over past millennia and in the present, and why our environmental disturbances will continue to bring us infections into the future.”

Over the years, Cohan learned that he can sustainably teach about 170 students every year without running out of interested students. This fall, he had 207. Although he didn’t change the overall structure of his course to accommodate COVID-19 topics, he did add material on the current pandemic to various sections of the course.

“I wouldn’t say that the population of the class increased tremendously as a result of COVID-19, but I think the enthusiasm of the students for the material has increased substantially,” he said.

To accommodate online learning, Cohan shaved off 15 minutes from his normal 80-minute lectures to allow for discussion sections, led by Cohan and teaching assistants. “While the lectures mostly dealt with biology, the discussions focused on how changes in behavior and policy can solve the infectious disease problems brought by human disturbance of the environment,” he said.

Based on student responses to an introspective exam question, Cohan learned that many students enjoyed a new hope that we could each contribute to fighting infectious disease. “They discovered that the solution to infectious disease is not entirely a waiting game for the right technologies to come along,” he said. “Many enjoyed learning about fighting infectious disease from a moral and social perspective. And especially, the students enjoyed learning about the ‘socialism of the microbe,’ how preventing and curing others’ infections will prevent others’ infections from becoming our own. The students enjoyed seeing how this idea can drive both domestic and international health policies.”

A sampling of the published student essays are below:

Alexander Giummo ’22 and Mike Dunderdale’s ’23 op-ed titled “A National Testing Proposal: Let’s Fight Back Against COVID-19” was published in the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.

They wrote: “With an expansive and increased testing plan for U.S. citizens, those who are COVID-positive could limit the number of contacts they have, and this would also help to enable more effective contact tracing. Testing could also allow for the return of some ‘normal’ events, such as small social gatherings, sports, and in-person class and work schedules.

“We propose a national testing strategy in line with the one that has kept Wesleyan students safe this year. The plan would require a strong push by the federal government to fund the initiative, but it is vital to successful containment of the virus.

“Twice a week, all people living in the U.S. should report to a local testing site staffed with professionals where the anterior nasal swab Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, used by Wesleyan and supported by the Broad Institute, would be implemented.”

Kalyani Mohan ’22 and Kalli Jackson ’22 penned an essay titled “Where Public Health Meets Politics: COVID-19 in the United States,” which was published in Wesleyan’s Arcadia Political Review.

They wrote: “While the U.S. would certainly benefit from a strengthened pandemic response team and structural changes to public health systems, that alone isn’t enough, as American society is immensely stratified, socially and culturally. The politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that individualism, libertarianism and capitalism are deeply ingrained in American culture, to the extent that Americans often blind to the fact community welfare can be equivalent to personal welfare. Pandemics are multifaceted, and preventing them requires not just a cultural shift but an emotional one amongst the American people, one guided by empathy—towards other people, different communities and the planet. Politics should be a tool, not a weapon against its people.”

Sydnee Goyer ’21 and Marcel Thompson’s ’22 essay “This Flu Season Will Be Decisive in the Fight Against COVID-19” also was published in Arcadia Political Review.

“With winter approaching all around the Northern Hemisphere, people are preparing for what has already been named a “twindemic,” meaning the joint threat of the coronavirus and the seasonal flu,” they wrote. “While it is known that seasonal vaccinations reduce the risk of getting the flu by up to 60% and also reduce the severity of the illness after the contamination, additional research has been conducted in order to know whether or not flu shots could reduce the risk of people getting COVID-19. In addition to the flu shot, it is essential that people remain vigilant in maintaining proper social distancing, washing your hands thoroughly, and continuing to wear masks in public spaces.”

Gamelan Ensemble Provides Virtual Mini-Concerts, Demonstrations During Pandemic

On Nov. 19, students from the Javanese Gamelan Ensemble presented their work-in-progress, a number of compositions in different tuning systems, and formal musical structures.

On Nov. 19, students from the MUSC 451: Javanese Gamelan-Beginners class presented their work-in-progress as part of a virtual mini-concert series. Both the beginning and advanced classes are allowed to perform in person as long as they remain six feet apart and wear masks and disposable gloves.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most of Wesleyan’s musical activities and classes were canceled, drastically adjusted, or moved to virtual platforms. Fortunately, for Wesleyan’s Javanese gamelan classes, students were still allowed to meet in-person as long as they followed strict guidelines: wear a mask and disposable gloves, social distance, and frequently use hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.

“The university made all of these available to the students in the World Music Hall, where the gamelan meets,” explained Winslow-Kaplain Professor of Music Sumarsam. “The gamelan instruments were set up six feet apart, and the students were required to maintain that distance while playing or sitting in the audience area for discussion, and when lining up to enter or exit the hall. We also planned to have occasional online lectures and discussions, so the group did not have to meet in person as often.”

In the process of planning their hybrid MUSC 451: Javanese Gamelan-Beginners and MUSC 452: Javanese Gamelan-Advanced courses, Sumarsam and fellow gamelan instructor I.M. Harjito, University Professor of Music, decided to create a biweekly series of virtual mini-concerts and demonstrations, each one showcasing a different theme or style in 30-minute formats. “The production staff of CFA has worked tirelessly to publicize and produce these virtual mini-concerts and demonstrations,” Sumarsam noted.

Otake on “An Artist’s Practice in the Year of Pandemic and Political Cries”

As a dancer and choreographer, Wesleyan’s Visiting Dance Artist-in-Residence Eiko Otake spent the past 45-plus years of her career presenting her work in theaters, universities, museums, galleries, outdoor sites, and festivals worldwide. But like other artists navigating through the crisis, Otake was forced to find creative ways to re-focus, re-imagine, and share her work during the ongoing pandemic.

In March 2020, the Center for the Arts invited Otake to begin a Virtual Creative Residency, during which she began shifting her performance-based art to an online venue named Eiko Otake’s Virtual Studio. Here, Otake posts her new creations, dialogues, and reflections.

On Nov. 15, Otake led a virtual tour and conversation titled “An Artist’s Practice in the Year of Pandemic and Political Cries.” She was joined by two of her collaborators, DonChristian Jones ’12 and Iris McCloughan ’10. McCloughan also moderated the discussion.

The group shared works such as Your Morning Is My Night, Fish House, Visit, Attending, A Body in a Cemetery, Saving, and others.

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On Nov. 15, Eiko Otake, DonChristian Jones ’12, and Iris McCloughan ’10 presented a live, virtual conversation titled “An Artist’s Practice in the Year of Pandemic and Political Cries.” McCloughan also moderated the discussion. In 2020, Otake was invited by Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts (CFA) to its first Virtual Creative Residency. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Otake created Virtual Studio, a space to share newly created and newly edited video works, written reflections, the voices of her collaborators, dialogues with artists and writers, and response from viewers.

Psychological Scavenger Hunt Helps Alleviate Zoom Fatigue

On Oct. 27 and Nov. 5, more than 100 students participated in an on-campus Psychological Scavenger Hunt created by Steve Stemler, associate professor of psychology, and Sarah Carney, assistant professor of the practice in psychology. Carney, pictured second from left, spoke with Stemler through Zoom during the event. 

On Oct. 27 and Nov. 5, more than 100 students participated in an on-campus Psychological Scavenger Hunt created by Steve Stemler, associate professor of psychology, and Sarah Carney, assistant professor of the practice in psychology. Carney, pictured second from left, spoke with Stemler through Zoom during the event. One group walked more than 2.5 miles during the scavenger hunt.

This fall, the introductory-level course PSYC 105: Foundations of Contemporary Psychology is being taught entirely online to 200 students due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After six weeks of remote lectures and interactive breakout sections via Zoom, Professors Steve Stemler and Sarah Carney who are team-teaching the course, hoped to break the “Zoom fatigue” routine and get their students physically interacting. So working together with the eight course TAs, they created a campus-wide psychological scavenger hunt.

With the first wave of students participating on Oct 27, and other waves participating subsequently, more than 110 students participated in the activity in person, while others joined in virtually.

“This was a fun way of doing some course-relevant activities while getting students out and about and interacting with each other,” Stemler said.

The instructors and TAs worked hard to ensure the scavenger hunt adhered to all COVID-19 protocols by keeping team sizes small, start times staggered, and locations spread out across campus and outside.

During the hunt, students worked in groups of four and looked for clues at various campus locations. The clues led them to a station run by a teaching assistant, who asked the undergraduates to complete a task relevant to the course content.

At an “intelligence station,” for example, the groups engaged in a word recognition test that relies on past experiences to prime their perceptions. At a “consciousness station,” students were asked to write down five things about themselves, and then the TA shuffled around their cards. After the cards were revealed, students had to categorize the notes as belonging to the social self, spiritual self, or material self in accordance with William James’ theory of the empirical self. And at a “methods station,” students read a description of a fictional research study and were allowed to ask 10 follow-up questions. The goal of that activity was to get students thinking about what information they wanted to know and why in order to evaluate the validity of the study rather than simply recalling the correct answers about the study design.

The scavenger hunt also led students to stations on memory, cognition, and bystander intervention.

The Teaching Apprentices for the course are Nolan Collins ’23, Maya Verghese ’23, Sarah Hammond ’22, Charity Russell ’21, Will Ratner ’22, Christian Quinones ’22, Arianna Jackson ’22, and Ezra Levy ’21.

Photos of the scavenger hunt on Oct. 27 are below: (Photos by Simon Duan ’23)

Psychological Scavenger Hunt

Psychological Scavenger Hunt

Psychological Scavenger Hunt

Psychological Scavenger Hunt

Psychological Scavenger Hunt

Kabacoff: Teaching Quantitative Analysis during the Pandemic

Robert Kabacoff,

Robert Kabacoff

When the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted in-person classes last spring, several faculty found innovative and creative ways to adapt to online teaching and learning.

In the fourth of a fall-semester series, we’ll be highlighting ways faculty from various departments are coping with teaching during a pandemic, and showcase individual ways courses are thriving in an in-person, online, or hybridized environment.

In this issue, we spotlight Robert Kabacoff, professor of the practice in the Quantitative Analysis Center. This fall, he’s teaching QAC 201: Applied Data Analysis; QAC 356: Advanced R: Building Open-Source Tools for Data Analysis; and QAC 385: Applications of Machine Learning in Data Analysis.

In the past, all of Kabacoff’s classes were taught in-person, but he’s currently teaching all three virtually.

“It’s a new experience,” he said. “The biggest challenge is keeping students engaged so they don’t feel like they are watching television or a YouTube video.”

To prevent Zoom fatigue, Kabakoff takes the following steps:

  1. He encourages all students to keep their video on to have a “classroom” feel.
  2. He sets up a forum at the beginning of the course where students share a bit about themselves, including their year, major, goals in the course, and at least one fun fact about themselves.
  3. He regularly checks in with them via Zoom chat, asking them to share a word or two about how they are doing.
  4. He uses polls to check their learning.
  5. He regularly groups students into breakout rooms to discuss and work on problems. Each group selects a representative to share their findings when they come back into the main room.
  6. They use Google’s Jamboard (whiteboard) during discussions, so that each student can add their thoughts in real time.
  7. Students read articles and watch videos via Perusall, a software tool that encourages them to comment on what they are reading or viewing. Students share thoughts and ask questions that other students try to answer. “The goal is to make a community learning environment,” Kabakoff said.

Although these approaches are working well, remote teaching has its downsides. Since he’s not meeting the students in person, Kabakoff tries diligently not to let students “fall through the cracks” and to keep them actively engaged in their own learning. He also helps students in different time zones feel connected and assists those who have poor internet service.

Kabakoff’s QAC 356 and QAC 385 classes have semester-long group projects. “Students work together via Zoom and use other team-building tools to complete the assignments together. At the end of the semester, they present their results to the class virtually,” he said.

But for his QAC 201 course, the class is a flipped classroom; students watch videos, complete readings, and take short quizzes on the material before class. In class, they work on a semester-long original research project. They do this by working at permanent virtual tables with five other students and a peer mentor (a student who has taken the course before and excelled on their own project).

“My role in this course is to provide very short lectures and act as a resource for each ‘table’ as they work on their projects,” Kabakoff said. “The course was designed by two Wesleyan psychology faculty and funded by an NSF grant. It has always been a flipped classroom, but has only now been offered virtually at Wesleyan.”

Students Explore New Reality through Dance

When the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted in-person classes last spring, several faculty found innovative and creative ways to adapt to online teaching and learning.

In the third of a fall-semester series, we’ll be highlighting ways faculty from various departments are coping with teaching during a pandemic, and showcase individual ways courses are thriving in an in-person, online, or hybridized environment.

In this issue, we spotlight Katja Kolcio, associate professor of dance and director of the Allbritton Center. Kolcio also is a core faculty member of the College of the Environment, Environmental Studies, and Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies Programs at Wesleyan. This fall, she’s teaching DANC 216: Contemporary Dance Technique: Dancing During Pandemic; DANC 435: Advanced Dance Practice A; and DANC 445: Advanced Dance Practice B.

pandemic

Katja Kolcio, pictured in the background in black clothing, teaches her Dancing During Pandemic class Sept. 4 near the Wesleyan softball field. Students keep a 12-foot distance between themselves. (Photos by Simon Duan ’23)

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Twenty-five students are enrolled in the Dancing During Pandemic course.

In a standard Wesleyan dance technique course, students corral inside a studio setting and work to develop artistic virtuosity in a particular dance genre: ballet, contemporary, hip-hop, jazz, West African, South Indian, and Afro-Brazilian.

But when the pandemic and its effects fundamentally altered the way people interact, communicate, and engage with one another, Katja Kolcio, associate professor of dance, decided to design a course specifically focusing on bringing attention to the physical experience of our new reality. So she created the practice-based course DANC 216: Dancing During Pandemic, open to all students.

“It’s common to feel too busy to dedicate attention to our physical sensations and experiences, or to the way in which new ideas or realities encountered in the world resonate within us,” Kolcio said. “So with this course, we examine, ‘How do we physically and socially navigate the new environment?’ We need to fully engage in our physical selves and awareness and bring greater attention to the ways humans utilize our physical and creative capacities.”

Peter Rutland on Teaching during the Pandemic

When the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted in-person classes last spring, several faculty found innovative and creative ways to adapt to online teaching and learning.

In the second of a fall-semester series, we’ll be highlighting ways faculty from various departments are coping with teaching during a pandemic, and showcase individual ways courses are thriving in an online or hybridized environment.

In this issue, we spotlight Peter Rutland from the Government Department.

rutland

Peter Rutland, at left, teaches his course, Nationalism, online. In this class, his 19 students explore the role of nationalism in countries such as the U.S., France, India, China, and Japan, and nationalist conflicts in Northern Ireland, Quebec, Yugoslavia, the former U.S.S.R., and Rwanda. Rutland plans to keep a newly-structured “flipped” classroom model when he returns to in-person teaching.

Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, professor of government, is teaching GOVT 157: Democracy & Dictatorship and GOVT 278: Nationalism this fall. He’s holding both classes entirely online this semester.

“I had grown complacent over 30 years of teaching and the virus forced me to innovate,” Rutland said.

In a normal semester, Rutland would teach in a lecture/discussion format. “I don’t use PowerPoint. I ask questions and steer the discussion towards the points I want to make.” To teach online, Rutland ‘flipped’ the class, making PowerPoint presentations, and recorded his lectures in advance so that students can watch them before the class meeting.

“That frees up all the class time for discussion,” he said, which typically includes 20 minutes in break-out rooms during each 80-minute class.

He also uses a Moodle forum before each class so that students can post individual questions. “That helps me to structure the class discussion,” Rutland said. “I also pose anonymous questions in Moodle during the class, enabling me to instantly summarize the results.”

Rutland developed the new teaching techniques over the summer, when he taught a section of Democracy and Dictatorship to a group of 15 pre-frosh. He’s repeating the same class this semester.

“My experience was surprisingly positive. Overall, I would even say that the class went better than when I teach it in person,” he said. “When I did that in a live class, it involved handing out pieces of paper and then gathering them back up. Likewise, holding breakout rooms in a live class was very cumbersome and in some classrooms impossible.

“In sum, students have a lot more opportunities for feedback in online teaching. I feel I have a much better grasp on how they are understanding the material. So when I return to in-person teaching I will keep the flipped classroom model,” Rutland said.

Faculty Share Insights on Teaching during a Pandemic

When the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted in-person classes last spring, several faculty found innovative and creative ways to adapt to online teaching and learning.

In the first of a fall-semester series, we’ll be highlighting ways faculty from various departments are coping with teaching during a pandemic, and showcase individual ways courses are thriving in an online or hybridized environment.

In this issue, we spotlight Naho Maruta from the College of East Asian Studies; Alison O’Neil from the Chemistry Department; and Ron Jenkins from the Theater Department.

Naho Maruta, associate professor of the practice in East Asian studies, is teaching her Intermediate Japanese I course online this semester.

Naho Maruta, associate professor of the practice in East Asian studies, is teaching her Intermediate Japanese I course online this semester.

Naho Maruta, associate professor of the practice in East Asian studies, chose to teach her fall 2020 classes entirely online because several students in her Japanese language classes are international students who were not able to make it back to campus this fall due to travel restrictions. Even her foreign language teaching assistant is working remotely from Japan.

“It’s important we’re live and synchronous because we have lots of conversation activities,” Maruta said. “Luckily, all students in my class are either in the Eastern Standard time zone or in Asia time zone, so having an 8:50 a.m. class works for both sides, even synchronously.”

During a regular semester, Maruta would create “language partners” by pairing students in upper-level Japanese courses with Wesleyan students from Japan, but with most native Japanese students off-campus, she began a new collaboration with Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.