By Megan Bruffy
In late March, Appalachian State University moved to virtual modes of learning due to concerns posed by COVID-19. Faculty and staff across campus have been simultaneously re-creating related, on-campus academic experiences — everything from thesis defenses to a reading clinic — through online platforms.
The university converted 2,600 courses from face-to-face instruction to online learning, and the university’s Center for Academic Excellence has provided assistance for faculty through this transition — reaching nearly 600 faculty in one week with more than 50 workshops, support and training sessions.
Many faculty members report being excited about the opportunities presented by online learning.
Dr. Greg McCandless, assistant professor of music theory in the university’s Hayes School of Music, said there are online benefits that cannot be re-created in person. For instance, in an online setting, students can submit questions throughout an entire class period, allowing McCandless to “pick and choose which to answer and when, creating a more open environment with more student participation and a net gain in critical thinking,” he said.
Additionally, he said the option to record live classes is beneficial for students because they can listen to any portion of the class again in order to revisit specific topics.
“Both students and instructors will become more tech savvy, and I believe we’ll emerge from this situation awakened to new possibilities and equipped with new abilities that will strengthen our university,” McCandless added.
Here are more examples of how the university’s departments and colleges are using technology and virtual platforms to create a new experience for Appalachian students:
- Online thesis defense. Graduate students, such as Reich College of Education (RCOE) doctoral candidate Peaches Hash, are defending their thesis or dissertation via the Zoom video communications platform. Hash recently defended her dissertation, “ARTiculation: Expressive Arts-based Curriculum in the Composition Classroom,” in front of a committee through a video call. Additionally, all undergraduate thesis defenses in the Honors College will be held online.
- Anderson Reading Clinic. The clinic, which is housed in the RCOE, has organized a Virtual Pen Pal Project. Through daily email communication, children — including those enrolled as K–5 students at the Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork in Walkertown, North Carolina — are invited to engage in authentic reading and writing in order to communicate with their virtual pen pals, who are Appalachian undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in reading education courses. The clinic is also providing daily, interactive literacy casts — live video meetings — for children in kindergarten through fifth grades. Through these literacy casts, children explore and create books, poetry and comics. In connection with these literacy casts, the clinic has created digital libraries and online bulletin boards through the Padlet app where children can publish and read the books, poems and comics they create. All of these resources can be found on the Anderson Reading Clinic blog.
- Graphic design capstone project. Graduating graphic design seniors in the Department of Art, who were originally preparing for their capstone exhibition at the end of the semester, are now collaboratively designing a “book as exhibition” as a way to disseminate their research-based design projects in a new format. They plan to host a virtual launch when the book is completed.
- Climate Stories Showcase. The university’s College of Fine and Applied Arts hosts an annual in-person Climate Stories Showcase that features student insights on climate change through a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, theatrical performance, videography, photography, design, narrative nonfiction and poetry. This year’s showcase will take place via the @ASUclimatestories Instagram account beginning April 15.
- Technology. Many students need access to special software and physical equipment to complete their studies. The Hayes School of Music has shipped keyboards to music students. Information Technology Services (ITS) is using uDesk, a virtual desktop environment, to allow students who need access to special software to log in to machines on campus that have it installed. Tung Ong ’90 ’99, the Walker College of Business’ dedicated computing consultant, said, “Our ITS staff is working hard to ensure our students can connect to our labs virtually.”
- y(our) Story. In lieu of an in-person event, the Department of Wellness and Prevention Services hosted a virtual premiere — via YouTube and Facebook — of “y(OUR) Story,” a mental health show featuring stories submitted and performed by the campus community. y(OUR) Story 2020 premiere archive
- Recorded content. Several professors in the College of Arts and Sciences are using video to simulate classroom experiences. Dr. Sarah Carmichael, geochemist and professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences (GES), filmed petrology samples, as they would have been seen by students under the microscope. Senior lecturer Brian Zimmer and visiting assistant professor Dr. Hannah Riegel, both of the GES department, filmed field mapping work their students would have experienced throughout the semester.