While one WVU professor believes that the semester has been more effective than expected, there are still hurdles to jump through to connect with students and keep them engaged.
Irene Alby, a teaching assistant professor in the School of Theatre and Dance, teaches directing in both hybrid and online courses. For her hybrid class, she has created pods where she divided students into four groups of six people.
For the live assignments, Alby brings two in-person groups, where one group does the exercise while the other watches, with a cleaning break in between. As for the other portion of the class, they watch live via Zoom.
“Normally, all the students would do the exercise, but in this case, half the class is watching, commenting and later writing in a discussion board about it,” Alby said.
Alby said that for the most part the semester has gone smoothly — more so than she had anticipated.
However, the biggest hurdle has been the unpredictable elements, such as going virtual, which would result in another schedule readjustment, Alby said.
“It's a very complex schedule to begin with,” Alby said. “So, you know, at the beginning of the semester when that happened, and now again — we're actually virtual for a week right now. It means that we have to — I have to sort of reassess how we're going to do exercises.”
With some of the limitations or difficulty with technology this semester has posed, such as audibility and extra stability issues with recording, Alby said it can actually be a good learning experience for those who are studying directing.
When it comes to connecting with students, Alby said that she found it harder to remember who everyone was while they wore masks or interacted virtually on Zoom.
“I definitely felt that face like face recognition took longer,” Alby said. “I actually found that every day as they entered, I would have them introduce themselves over Zoom and say their pronouns.”
Alby said that while their theatre students are very interested in what they are learning, they were initially reluctant to engage quite as often on Zoom.
“I found that there were moments where I would ask a question and nobody would answer,” Alby said. “So, a few times, I found myself either doing an interpretive dance or singing Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably Numb' or speaking in Italian or French. Just switching and being like, ‘Okay if you guys don't answer, I'm just gonna keep lecturing in French now until somebody speaks.’”
Director of the Natural Resource Analysis Center at the Davis College Paul Kinder said that while they have the advantage of much of their research taking place outside, the pandemic has still presented challenges.
“Quite a bit of the work we do is outside in the field. We do a lot with GIS and GPS and drones, and stream restoration and other things that keep us outside,” Kinder said.
For research projects that are farther away, such as one on at Reymann Memorial Farm in Wardensville, which is a three-hour drive, everyone must drive separately, which has created more expenses.
However, Kinder said that once they are in the field, maintaining social distance is easy. They also ensure that all equipment, such as drones, are sanitized before being shared with others.
“I'm sure a lot of people have suffered a lot more in their research, particularly inside lab type of environments, but our laboratories are generally outside,” Kinder said.
Prior to COVID-19, at the lab inside the Natural Resource Analysis Center, they would have weekly brainstorming sessions where graduate students and undergraduate students could present and discuss their research.
"The way I try to run the system is that everyone helps with everyone else when they need it on their particular project,” Kinder said. “That’s a little harder. We don't have that organic face to face interaction.”
Overall, Kinder said that they have worked very hard to get a lot of work done over the summer and fall.
“I feel like we've been highly productive given the circumstances — I think we've been safe,” Kinder said. “We've got a couple papers in the works for publication.”