In response to state orders in March 2020 related to the newly declared pandemic, Antioch College temporarily curtailed on-campus programs and transitioned to distance learning. The adoption of a digital campus was quick for a campus that moved more at an analog pace and required some ingenuity and a lot of tech support. Despite this, Antioch’s unique brand of experiential learning translated into distance learning in many different forms. Read how our faculty approached pandemic learning last year.
After finishing out the academic year remotely, a plan to bring students back to campus for the 2020-21 academic year meant creating remote and hybrid course options to accommodate a safe learning environment. Staff, faculty, and students adjusted accordingly to move forward. The College’s faculty members, who have been so resilient in providing flexible learning options to our students, shifted how they teach in response to students’ needs.
Synchronous, Asynchronous, and Hybrid Classrooms
In the midst of the regular work, faculty engage in at the College, layered with a multitude of situations related to the pandemic, transforming courses for hybrid
learning, or completely remote learning, was a heavy lift. Vice President of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of History Dr. Kevin McGruder approached the virtual space as his classroom space: “I’ve done online pretty much the same as face to face. I’ve been teaching synchronously.” While fully asynchronous learning would require a lot of innovation, synchronous-style hybrid and online courses allow Dr. McGruder to continue with a discussion-based classroom, virtually as needed. Finding a large enough classroom space for his students to safely distance themselves allowed Dr. McGruder to have his Dialogue Across Difference course in person—something he feels is essential for a course that relies on face-to-face conversation and connection.
Dr. David Kammler, dean of Academic Affairs and associate professor of Chemistry, notes that with the exception of Spring 2020, he also did not need to make too many adjustments to his lesson plan. “In Spring 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, all College courses switched to distance education,” he explains. “So, I canceled the lab for General Chemistry II because there’s no such thing as an online chemistry lab. There are many colleges that do online videos of other people doing labs that have students interpret the data, and while that’s a great way to get ready for a lab, that doesn’t train your hands to do it. So, I decided to cancel my lab rather than give our students something that really isn’t the chemistry lab.” Dr. Kammler has been holding lectures online and lab in-person for those on campus this spring quarter.
Assistant Professor of Sculpture and Installation, Faculty Trustee, and Interim Creative Director for the Herndon Gallery Michael Casselli ’87 has found his studio classes have benefited from being face-to-face. “The exchange is so much better outside of the virtual interface,” he clarifies, “and technology does not get in the way with its glitches and lags and general myopicizing, if that’s a word—I don’t think it is—but it describes what I am talking about: the tendency for this screen technology, at least in my experience, to create a myopic kind of environment when an expansive one is necessary. I don’t like it for studio classes at all.”
Casselli has found that a one-to-one, online approach for Capstone 394, Senior Project Preparation, did make sense. “It was so beneficial to spend an hour with each student weekly and really dig into what they were doing and what they were thinking about while developing a plan of attack with regard to their senior project.”
While distance learning synchronously, students and faculty engage in real-time and receive feedback in real-time. Tech challenges, time zones, and students being uncomfortable on camera create complications. “Teaching is a cooperative activity,” explains Dr. McGruder, and those obstacles can have a real impact on the virtual classroom experience. Ultimately, some faculty members found a balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning worked better for them and their students.
Assistant Professor of Political Economy Dr. Dean Snyder’s students have appreciated flexibility in curriculum delivery. “I pre-record all of my lectures so that students can work ahead or catch up easily if they need to miss a class,” he says. “Fighting so-called ‘zoom fatigue’ has also been important. Rather than jump right into a two-hour seminar discussion, we begin each class with a 30-minute writing exercise, which I view in real-time through Google Classroom. Insights or questions are addressed directly in the online discussion that follows. I’ll definitely be incorporating the real-time writing exercises in my post-pandemic classroom.”
Similarly, Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Teófilo Espada-Brignoni has provided options to follow his courses in-person as well as online, depending on the specific needs of each student. “I’m teaching in the classroom, and I’m also doing the online version of the class through Canvas (a learning management system). I feel safe in the class, and the students have been really good at wearing their mask and keeping social distance. I think the numbers show that too—the number of COVID cases—seeing as we have had so few cases.” Teaching his courses online has not come without challenges, and has found that his synchronous classes generate much more work than the asynchronous classes.
“I piloted an English class that would be an expository writing class, that was focused on interviewing alumni. The idea was that we would exchange the kind of dialogue that we would have in the classroom for a different kind of dialogue at a distance,” says Dean of Cooperative, Experiential, and International Education and Associate Professor of Writing, Aesthetics and Digital Studies Brooke Bryan ’03. Taking the moment to try something experimental, “students had the opportunity to have a different kind of conversation—that part worked well.” Uncertainty early in the pandemic affected how much they accomplished in the classroom, but Bryan is hopeful that this pilot will lead to more creative technology use in her teaching. “What we did do was stretch ourselves to imagine what is possible in an expository writing class in ways that once things settle down I’d like to return to,” she adds.
Associate Professor of Cooperative Education, Luisa Bieri Rios, employed synchronous, asynchronous, and hybrid models for her courses. Bieri was able to apply creativity to the challenges of online learning, and found a way to convert in-person teaching methods to distance learning. “One of the things that I found that worked was—similarly when you’re in the classroom—to pair students up to partner and work in small groups and to do that with whatever technology you’re using,” she says. “So, when I was teaching a hybrid course, for example, Dialogue Across Difference, I would often pair students in the classroom with a student who was remote so that they were getting a chance to get to know each other and kind of recreate the idea that you’re building connections with your peers in the classroom.”
Didier Franco, associate Professor of Spanish Language and Culture, echoes Bieri’s statement, explaining that he has found that it is important that students have time to practice their language skills in small group settings. “Practicing with each other aids in the development of oral skills. Students have the opportunity to work with different peers, help each other and build relationships through group features on Zoom.” Students still have the opportunity to interact in small groups in an online format.
Bieri explains that she has also made sure to connect the first-year students to an idea of campus community, even to those who were taking courses remotely. She emphasizes the importance of listening to the students and becoming even more aware of what is impacting them and their lives at this moment, “particularly during this time, when students are off-campus and have a lot going on in their lives. Oftentimes, during this pandemic, as we all know, it’s beyond even what we need personally. We’re part of these webs of caregiving; of taking care of different people; of making sure that people are well and receiving the services and resources that they need.”
Technology Tools and Support
Technology, and tech support, played a huge role in everyone’s success so far this academic year. ITAMS worked with students and faculty to meet their needs.
“What did work was Media Services—they did a great job of supporting, working in the classroom, making sure we had what we needed, I had to call David Adkins [Media Services Coordinator], a couple of times for things that weren’t working. That was very very important for the success we had.”
Some tech tools deployed across campus enabled students learning remotely to tune into lectures held on campus. “With this winter, we had the big plus of the Owl cameras, which allowed students to decide to participate in class whether remotely or not,” explains Dr. McGruder. In discussions about online learning in a spring Community Meeting, some students cited the positive aspect of being able to tune into a class even when they couldn’t get there in person.
Across campus, faculty, staff, and students are also becoming experts in Google’s suite of apps, including Google Meet. Dr. Kammler took a proactive approach and sought out new technology (a tablet and a stylus). “I bought an iPad and an Apple Pencil and figured out how to use Google Jams—Google Jams is Google’s version of a smartboard. It’s basically a dry-erase board but it’s electronic, and it allows the content of the jam board to be downloaded as PDF so students can take it with them.”
Franco has been able to use a feature in Canvas that allows him to use a virtual discussion board where students are able to discuss homework topics through written communication. Students are connected to the online community, in the online classroom, both synchronously and asynchronously.
A Hope for Post-Pandemic Antioch
As vaccination rates have increased in southwestern Ohio, and case numbers continue to fall, how students will live and learn in community on campus may look quite different in the next academic year. While faculty have found some new ways to teach, and new tools to expand the classroom and students’ hands-on experiences, in-person learning is still the priority at Antioch.
“I think really one of the reasons why students come to smaller colleges is they actually want classes in person,” explains Dr. Kammler, who hopes he will be able to teach primarily in-person and hands-on. “That’s what our students have told us; they want classes in person. I need to be in a classroom where I can talk to people directly. That way, I get a better sense of what students are understanding and what they aren’t understanding.”
Flexibility through tools like Google Meet, expanding and strengthening on-campus wifi, and supporting technology needs might sustain some of the new ways faculty and students are connecting in and out of the classroom space. Casselli is leaning toward continuing flexibility for individual and group sessions for classes. “I enjoy the flexibility and the individual attention I can provide when it is needed, coupled with the dynamic of the students together with me in the classroom. I am also excited based on some of the physical modifications to my teaching spaces that I was able to realize. It has made those spaces so much more valuable and flexible for the students who choose to take my classes.”
“I’d like to continue to offer to meet students via Google Meet for tutorials and meetings for those who are away on Co-op or for those who are not able to meet during my office hours,” Franco adds.
Bieri explains that she has enjoyed being able to watch her students perform in different locations outside of the classroom, and hopes to continue using this in the future. “In the performance class that I taught this winter, students ended up doing site-specific works in and around where they were living. Typically, this class is taught in the Foundry Theater,” she says. “This year, I had students who were able to perform at the oceanside and other places where we would’ve never been able to see or witness the same performances had we all been in person.”
Looking towards the future, she will want to continue to use technology as a tool for flexibility when students aren’t able to be in class in-person so that they can still engage in meaningful conversations and dialogue. “I may also invite more artists in residency, such as Mujeres de Artes Tomar, who taught a workshop from Buenos Aires, Argentina in the performance class over Zoom. I wouldn’t have imagined doing that before the pandemic and yet, it was really powerful. Allowing the walls of your classroom to expand and have a global reach is really exciting, and I’ll want to continue that aspect.”