Butler University professors pivot to fully online instruction

Despite last-minute changes to fall classes, the Pivot Pedagogy program helped prepare professors to conduct their classes online. Collegian file photo.

EMMA BEAVINS | OPINION CO-EDITOR | ebeavins@butler.edu

Over the summer, Butler required all professors to complete eight modules of the Pivot Pedagogy program, which taught them how to change a class format from in-person to online to hybrid — with the potential of all of those changes happening at any moment. There was an expectation from the start that switches may have to be made rapidly.

“We knew there was always a possibility that we would have to shift to virtual, and so we’re preparing for all of those different possibilities,” Brooke Kandel-Cisco, dean of the college of education, said. 

While all classes have had to adapt for the fall semester, the core curriculum classes had to be sorted out on a larger scale. Travis Ryan, the faculty director of the core program, spoke of the challenges related to the First Year Seminar requirement.

For the most part, we were really committed to trying to do FYS face-to-face,” Ryan said. “There’s a strong belief that the community that develops in the FYS is stronger if people are meeting with each other regularly and in person. Then about a month ago, we realized that there were going to be a number of first year students who were perhaps wanting to be remote.”

To create a similar community online, the core program created a new, fully-online branch of FYS. The work to determine an online instructor for this new FYS section became more difficult as individual instructors decided to go remote for their own health and safety or that of their families.  

“We went from one out of 59 sections of FYS being fully online to probably about a dozen or so,” Ryan said. “And of course, all of that work that we did over the summer yesterday all became sort of a moot point.”

Ryan is referring to the Aug. 23 decision by Butler University to move fully online for the first two weeks of the semester. 

Physical Well-Being is another requirement that has been reconfigured for the fall semester. Contact-based classes like basketball and women’s self defense could not happen following the health and safety guidelines. So, around 170 students were automatically transferred into a new online PWB. 

This self-paced course includes modules like gardening and wellness, sleep and wellness, the benefits of exercise, play and mindfulness. Rather than being taught by one professor, multiple professors from across the university contributed one module each according to their area of expertise. For each topic, students will hear from someone new. 

“It’s kind of like a crowdsource PWB,” Kandel said.

Students who preferred to take their chosen PWB in person at a later date were able to opt out of the course.

Outside of working with the PWB requirement, Kandel heads the college of education. She was confident that the professors would adapt, as they are accustomed to using multiple entry points to help students understand material. Nearly all of the professors in the education department planned to teach in person, but were prepared to switch to online when the Aug. 23 decision was announced. 

Education majors are also learning how to adapt. The college relies on out-of-the-classroom experiences like student teaching and internships to prepare students to become educators. Many of these experiences are still happening in accordance with the regulations of the individual K-12 schools. 

Gautam Rao, a professor in the art and design department, also felt prepared for the switch to online. One of his previous students concurred when they said that art and design professors were unusually tech savvy — for better or for worse.

Rao teaches graphic design, painting, the senior thesis and a Perspectives in the Creative Arts class, among others. This semester, he is choosing to go asynchronous. While students won’t have access to the studio space that is typically open to them 24/7, Rao thinks it could be an interesting challenge.

“Ironically… in many ways I don’t think it’s difficult,” Rao said. “In my own personal practice, I work in my house. And I think there are tons of professional artists these days that work at home.”

There is the potential that more equipment-heavy classes like sculpting will be harder without access to the studio. But on the whole, Rao says that most disciplines will be accessible from a dorm.

For these professors, online instruction has given them an opportunity to be creative and try out new ways of learning in their classes and departments.

“My main takeaway from all of this is that our faculty and staff are incredibly committed to students,” Kandel said. “It really has been an all-in approach, and people have been willing to just continue working and trying out new things and being creative, in order to meet either face to face, hybrid or fully remote instruction online.”

 

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