As students and faculty prepared for spring break news struck the UW-Madison campus that would alter plans for the semester. UW-Madison was to shift to alternate delivery of courses from March 23 through the end of the spring semester.
This announcement was in response to Wisconsin’s Governor Tony Evers guidelines related to large events and mass gatherings, prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people in Wisconsin as part of the Safer at Home order.
With just over a week for faculty, instructors, and teaching assistants to shift their plans for the semester online, many were panicked and unsure of how to proceed. Except for LSC.
LSC has been building the capacity to teach online for a long time. Ranging from offerings in “marketing” to “visual communication” and “science, media and society,” LSC has been offering online instruction during the summer for years. When it came time for our instructors and faculty to shift their courses we were prepared to do so.
“LSC not only has some of the world’s leading experts when it comes to communicating about COVID-19. But we also want to make sure that our students learn from this crisis in real-time, online or not,” said LSC professor Dietram Scheufele.
It wasn’t surprising that the LSC community came together quickly to ensure a smooth transition to the online format across the department. LSC faculty, staff, students met via Zoom over spring break to exchange best online classroom practices and tips for ensuring the best experiences for our students. LSC graduate students were even willing to help faculty who they have never worked with before to help them with online teaching in our department.
When thinking about how instructors were to move their classroom content online, LSC Chair Dominique Brossard encouraged everyone to, “be adaptable. This is a difficult time for everyone and the easier you make it on the students and yourselves the better prepared we can be in the months to come.”
LSC has a variety of course formats in its curriculum. Many of our courses are the traditional classroom-based courses and offer a variety of opportunities for students to engage in discussion and learn from not only their instructor but their peers. Some instructors hold class synchronously (occurring at the same time through web and video platforms), others lecture asynchronously (on students’ own time through previously instructor recorded lectures). Regardless of the format, the LSC instructional team was determined to find ways to maintain that same classroom engagement in an online setting.
Many courses have opted to use the “group discussions” feature in Canvas to simulate small-group discussions among 10 or so students. In LSC 251: Science, Media and Society taught by LSC professor Dietram Scheufele, the discussions are asynchronous to allow students to participate on their own time and are monitored by the courses teaching assistants. Students are provided with a discussion prompt that requires them to engage with and apply course concepts in their responses. By responding to other students in their groups, students still have peer-to-peer interaction, even though some foreign students now connect from their native countries in Europe and Asia, as they explore the course material and gain a deeper understanding.
Additionally, instructors have been hosting live office hours or Q&A sessions during normal class time. “I’ve noticed that engagement and group discussion activity has increased since moving to an online format,” said LSC 332: Print and Electronic Media Design instructor Don Stanley. “I’m hearing from students who I don’t typically hear from in the traditional classroom setting. It’s great!”
LSC has several multimedia-based classes (video, radio, graphic design, etc.) and finding ways for an alternative delivery without multimedia access did pose some challenges. Students in LSC 450: Documentary Photography for The Sciences and LSC 314: Introduction To Digital Video Production, both taught by LSC Lecturer Gunther Nelson, were thrown for a loop when they were notified that they would not have access to LSC’s expansive supply of video broadcast and photography equipment for the semester.
“The effort that the students are putting in under challenging conditions is awesome. They have been taking advantage of the equipment they have access to (phones, cameras, iPads, etc.) to submit their assignments,” said Nelson. “Some of the assignments showed outstanding creativity and were very well done.”
The high standard of classroom transparency has not fallen short due to the suspension of face-to-face instruction. “We are being very transparent with the students about how LSC 251 will function for the rest of the semester.” said Nicole Krause, one of the LSC 251 Teaching Assistants, “we’ve created a large FAQ document about the online transition for the students. Every Monday we have weekly announcements that cover “What to read, what to watch, what to do, and what is optional” about the course content. Beyond all of this, Dietram [Scheufele] also records a weekly intro podcast with the kinds of up-to-date course announcements he would provide in a lecture.”
Students you are encouraged to reach out to your LSC professors early if you are struggling, whether or not those struggles are academic. There are often resources and options available to you, no matter what your situation is. LSC is here to help.
Overall, this is a challenging time for many but LSC is committed to maintaining its high standard of instructional excellence whether classes meet in-person or online. We are very grateful for everyone and all of their hard work over the past few weeks.