KOKOMO, Ind. – How do you give college students the on-campus, in-person learning experience they want in the safest manner possible during a global pandemic?
Technology upgrades and lots of training.
“What we’re trying to provide is an experience that is more in-person than ever, even if it is on Zoom,” said Julie Saam, assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs. “That’s what our students want, that’s what our faculty want, and that’s what we’re going to give them.”
To reach that goal, Indiana University Kokomo is offering many of its fall semester classes in a hybrid formula, with part of the students attending in person and the rest participating remotely, on alternating days. In order to make both experiences as interactive as possible, faculty have spent many hours this summer understanding best practices for remote learning to keep students connected and engaged.
“What makes a good class is the relationships formed, not only between the professor and students, but among the students themselves,” Saam added. “How do we make sure the students connect to the material, to us, and to each other? A lot of work had to be done, and a lot of rethinking about how we did things before COVID-19.”
The campus Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (CTLA), led by Saam, partnered with the Library and University Information Technology Services (UITS) to offer faculty a five-week program, covering a wide variety of topics on technology and teaching remotely.
And, while most classrooms already had the technology, UITS upgraded cameras and added ceiling microphones – among other enhancements.
“UITS has been busy building new classrooms over the last month to meet campus needs due to physical distancing requirements,” said Craig Swoverland, executive director of UITS Kokomo. “We’ve created 7 new spaces in the former Purdue wing of the Kelley Student Center, with enhanced Zoom capabilities of the extra ceiling microphones and active learning cameras.
“To support the largest of all classes offered at IU Kokomo, we’re setting up the new Events Center with classroom technology. This will allow us to seat up to 96 students together with appropriate distancing for lecture format classes.”
UITS staff completed two classrooms early to allow time for faculty to take a trial run at the new technology.
On one morning, Sarah Heath, associate professor of history, and Tsarai Chimhanda, visiting lecturer in business, worked together to test their skills.
Standing at the front of an empty classroom, Heath logged into Zoom on the podium technology center, bringing up a slide show on the screen.
Five rooms away, Chimhanda gave her a thumbs up, letting her know he can see the slides on his computer. With the push of a button, she changed to a different camera, giving him a view of the empty seats — six feet apart — that will soon be filled with students.
Chimhanda appreciates being able to try everything and work out any challenges in advance, before he’s standing in front of students.
“I don’t want to spend too much time trying to figure it out during class,” he said. “We want to be able to welcome the students, answer their questions, and reduce their anxiety.”
Heath said faculty have put a lot of work into designing classes and content to engage all students, whether they are in the classroom or learning remotely.
“We knew from the spring that many people don’t like Zoom. They want the in-person experience,” she said. “That goal creates additional responsibility that none of us had before, but on the other hand, it’s allowing us to create a more in-person experience.”