True Grit!

Stephanie Fiore

[The following article first appeared in volume 50 of the Temple University Faculty Herald.]

What a wild ride the past weeks have been! The Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT) was in the middle of providing support to Temple Japan and Temple Rome to move their instruction online when the call came from the Provost’s office with a simple message: “Get ready for main campus!” I’ll admit I didn’t sleep well that night, anticipating already the enormity of the task ahead, the challenges that our faculty and our team would face, and the very real responsibility to make sure we could provide an education for our students. Subsequent participation in university-wide committees tasked with making what seemed almost impossible actually happen introduced me to all of those people on the front lines responsible for health, student services, information technology, emergency management, human resources, communications, and so much more. Our university is a complex ecosystem and the number of decisions to be made on a daily basis were (and are) staggering.

But at the heart of this effort is academic continuity, and that means you, our faculty colleagues, who had to shift to an online learning environment in just a few weeks time. By extension, that meant us, the CAT team of 13 faculty developers, educational technology specialists, and operations experts, whose job it would be to guide that process and lend support. I am daily amazed at the genius, resilience, and patience of the CAT staff during this crisis. In one week’s time, we created the REMOTE: Resources for Emergency Online Teaching website, developed and launched workshops and webinars to assist faculty in thinking about how to teach online and how to accomplish their classroom tasks – such as discussion, lecture, and assessment – online, trained faculty on ed tech tools such as Zoom and Voicethread, and began an email campaign to direct faculty to resources and to push out even more advice and guidance on a regular basis. We also scheduled our staff so that they would be available for consultations with faculty from 8:00am until 10:00pm every weekday and from 10:00am until 2:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays. We went out to schools and colleges, as needed, to consult with groups of faculty challenged with teaching in special contexts. We joined Tyler faculty in thinking about how to conduct studio teaching online, CST faculty in deciding which assessments would work best online, Boyer faculty in brainstorming ways to teach music and dance online, Engineering to figure out how to allow students to complete their capstone projects, and so much more. We hoped that this suite of services would sustain, encourage, and support faculty to make the move to online teaching, support them when they felt worried and incapable of achieving this, and reassure them that they were doing everything they could. It might not be perfect online teaching, but it would do the trick.

Through all of this, we have seen remarkable creativity, thoughtfulness, and effort on the part of our faculty. From the faculty who never use technology in their classes and so had to learn from the ground up, to the faculty who figured out how to teach ceramics, labs, media production, or acting online, to the ones who had to figure out what to do about students in field experiences or student teaching assignments, faculty have shown their dedication to student learning, their own ability to learn and grow, and their true grit. I am astounded at what I have seen and so incredibly proud. You have made this happen, my friends, and you should pat yourselves on your exhausted backs.

As we move towards the Summer I online classes, we’ll be partnering with the Office of Digital Education (ODE) to provide Canvas course templates and other tools to give you a leg up in designing online courses from scratch. And, of course, the CAT will be here with even more information, training, and support as you take on this new task. Designing an online course in its entirety will give us a chance to take a moment to think about what worked and didn’t in this emergency situation and pivot accordingly. As always, the CAT will be there to help you pivot. Look for new webinars in April on designing and delivering an online course.

Thank you again for all of the hard work you have done to complete this semester. As you continue this unprecedented journey, think about joining us for a casual check-in session every Friday at noon Around the Virtual Faculty Water Cooler: Sharing Our Experiences with Online Teaching. I have met so many of you in these past weeks, and hope to meet the rest of you at the (virtual) CAT.

Stephanie Fiore is Assistant Vice Provost of Temple University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

Leave a Reply