This summer, Clark faculty faced uncertainty about what the fall semester at the University would look like. They had to shift their class preparation dramatically to deal with new realities, new technology, and a radically altered look to their classrooms. But they didn’t have to do it alone.
To help faculty address these challenges, Clark’s School of Professional Studies (SPS) and Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning held “Adapting Your Teaching to Alternate Modalities and Realities,” a series of professional development webinars providing guidance and support for faculty and staff.
“This series was designed to bring our faculty together virtually and to provide an opportunity for some targeted professional development around teaching and learning,” says Mary Piecewicz, SPS associate dean.
Andrew Haggarty, instruction and reference librarian at Clark, presented a session examining resources used by students and faculty. He discussed how to judge contextual credibility and authority with tips and techniques to recognize where resources fall on the spectrum of reliability. In “Fact or Fiction: Discerning Reality,” Haggarty also reviewed how to look at information critically — from unhinged tweets to academic research.
Faculty often have questions about how students evaluate, trust, and use research sources, particularly when so much research is now done on the internet. “It is important for instructors to know what is out there and how students interact with and respond to it,” says Haggarty.
Haggarty also discussed the capabilities of Goddard Library, including its remotely accessible electronic collection, along with tools and tips for resource management, research assistance, and citation creation.
Joanne Dolan, Clark’s director for academic technology and client support, presented “Flexible Teaching in a Disrupted World,” in which she discussed how faculty can adapt current teaching modalities to create hybrid/online courses and identified which tools and media are most effective to support flexible teaching while enhancing student learning.
“The necessity for pivoting is high this fall and faculty need to be prepared if things change,” says Dolan.“It is important for faculty to have a clear vision of course goals, be prepared by being familiar with available resources, and communicate clearly and often with their students.”
Dolan reviewed teaching modalities such as hybrid/blended, a combination of face-to-face and online learning; split class hybrid, where classes are broken into groups that alternate between in-person and online learning; and fully online teaching. She offered strategies to adapt teaching preferences as learning parameters change, including holding asynchronous classes, which include prerecorded lectures and digital materials that students located in different parts of the world can access at any time.
Michael Vidal, director for diversity and inclusive excellence, led a session on “Understanding the Unconscious Bias in the Classroom,” which discussed the concept of unconscious bias and its role in shaping human attitudes and behaviors. Using interactive videos and images, the session explored the ways in which culture facilitates unconscious bias and leads to inequities. Participants also were taught strategies for disrupting and reducing bias in their classrooms.
“We all have bias in some way, shape, or form. It’s very much a part of our cognitive functioning and part of our social reality,” says Vidal. “But bias is malleable — and we all have the capacity to learn, and to be better and do better.”
Vidal described unconscious bias — the preference for a certain group — as something developed early in life that often operates outside our awareness. Based on stereotypes we hold, this bias tends to strengthen over time, he says. Vidal identified conditions where it can prevail, such as in high stress moments, ambiguous situations, and circumstances requiring a high cognitive load, and presented strategies to “de-bias” and reduce its occurrence.
The final webinar in the series, “Reflections on the Online Learning Experience,” featured a student panel discussion moderated by Khiran Raj of Clark’s American Language and Culture Institute. Participants included graduate students Caitlin Louie ’20, MPA ’21, Sonia Vo, MSF ’21, and Yuxiu Wang, MSBA ’20, and undergraduate students Nick Mellis ’21 and Emanual Sapalo ‘20.
Discussing their transition to online learning, the students agreed that Clark handled the move well, but that classes without in-person interaction, while still robust, lacked connection. Although technical issues were a problem, the students noted that motivation and accountability were perhaps the greatest difficulty. “If there’s no one looking over your shoulder and you don’t have the mindset needed for study, it’s easy to get distracted,” says Vo.
Communication between students and professors, and students with each other — rather than reliance on technology — was a theme throughout the session. Participants suggested that professors encourage students to turn on their cameras during Zoom classes and get feedback from their students about online learning expectations. “The goal should be to use technology to facilitate effective and engaging teaching and learning with a lot of interaction, including open forums, discussion boards, and breakout room sessions,” says Louie.
The professional development series was open to Clark University and Higher Education Consortium of Central Massachusetts (HECCMA) faculty.