Students and staff move to classes in new formats, including hybrid and online courses. Collegian File Photo.
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On Sunday Aug. 23, students were hit with the news that the first two weeks of the fall semester would be entirely virtual. Butler had announced earlier in the summer that in-person instruction would be occurring, but that faculty and students could opt-out for personal or family health reasons. Prior to Aug. 23, students had already received communication as to whether each of their classes would be online, in person or a hybrid of the two methods, which would include students attending live class some course periods and being online during others.
Faculty had to submit reasoning for accommodations and then wait for approval before being able to officially move their classes online.
Jay Howard, dean of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said he did not know of any faculty members that were denied the ability to teach their classes online.
According to Butler University registrar Michele Neary, 22% of undergraduate courses will be taught online for the entire semester, 44% of undergraduate courses will be taught in a hybrid format, and 34% of undergraduate courses will be taught in person.
Each student, faculty member and department is looking at a very different semester, with online to in-person ratios varying widely.
“There were a lot of individual circumstances involved,” Howard said. “A lot of consideration of ‘well, what does this mean for the department as a whole,’ as we have a small number of departments where the majority of courses in the major went online. ‘well, can we do anything about that? Is there a way of adjusting that?’”
Students are also adjusting to the “new normal,” with many agreeing that the hybrid model can be incredibly confusing.
Lauren Hunter, a junior pharmD MBA major said she found the whole hybrid process complicated.
“Before they said that classes were going to be virtual, I still didn’t know what days I was going to be required to actually go to class,” Hunter said.
Beyond faculty comfort levels, some courses are simply impossible to teach in one medium or another.
Brooke Barnett, dean of the College of Communication, said in an email interview that ASL courses are now being taught entirely online to accommodate the language.
“For ASL, students need to be able to see the facial expressions of the instructors and the students,” Barnett said. “So the in person class with masks is not conducive for that particular context.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, courses for dance majors cannot be taught in a hybrid fashion. What students are capable of doing in the studio differs greatly from what they can do at home, so Lisa Brooks, dean of Jordan College of the Arts, and the dance faculty came up with a more unique solution.
“In the dance studios, the notion is that your teacher could be in one studio doing whatever and it could stream simultaneously into the other studios,” Brooks said. “How do we lace all of the studios together with one faculty teaching and maybe another assisting and helping to make corrections and things like that?”
Following the transition to online classes during the spring 2020 semester, faculty members have spent the summer educating themselves on how to better teach virtual courses. In addition to independent support from department chairs and college deans, Butler provided an eight-module course referred to as the Pivot Pedagogy program. Faculty were paid a stipend for the time spent completing the course before the start of classes this fall.
Butler spent $750,000 dollars on faculty stipends for summer training and technology for online and hybrid courses, Howard said.
“We invested a lot of money, we invested a lot of people’s time and energy, we invested a tremendous amount of planning effort, to make a face-to-face residential experience possible for Butler students,” Howard said. “It was really a very collaborative effort that all of the colleges were working together under the leadership of the provost, Kate Morris, to make all of these things happen.”
According to Howard, 354 faculty members completed the program, with two required modules and six optional. The modules were created to assist faculty at all levels of technological knowledge, and a specific module was devised to help faculty teach laboratory courses online. The training included lessons on how to shift lesson plans and courses between modalities, Howard said.
Tom Mould, professor of anthropology and folklore, said he found the Pivot Pedagogy program very helpful.
“It was what we owed you as students,” Mould said. “Some of [the modules] were more or less helpful, we all come with different expertise. But I was incredibly appreciative that they prepared that for us.”
Additional training and support of course had to be devised on a college and departmental level, preparing faculty for the unique demands of their courses.
Hilary Buttrick, interim dean of the Lacey School of Business, held training sessions for faculty with Academic Program Development and Innovation beyond Pivot Pedagogy.
“All of the marketing professors, for example, got together and met with an instructional designer, so they could talk through specific things that work with the marketing curriculum,” Buttrick said.
Many faculty members credit Pivot Pedagogy with preparing them for the quick switch to virtual learning, specifically for designing classes for the fall that could easily switch modalities.
Eileen Taylor, lecturer in communications and media studies, said she had full faith in the faculty’s ability to make the transition.
“We’re all going to do our personal best during these times to make sure you have a quality Butler education and I know in my heart that we have faculty and staff that support the students that can make that happen, it was just a matter of executing it at the last minute,” Taylor said.
The faculty are all adamant that they are trying to make the best out of the situation facing not only Butler, but the world.
“Just as a nation, we have not done a good job of dealing with the pandemic and we’re all dealing with the consequences,” Howard said. “Given the cards we’ve been dealt, what’s the best hand we can play here? We’ve been given the range of less-than-ideal choices, what’s the best of these less-than-ideal choices? That’s where Butler is, that’s where every college and university is, and that’s where every student is.”