Delaware Tech, instructors embrace creative distance learning

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring, Delaware Tech made the decision to deliver classes primarily through distance learning, which meant faculty members were suddenly thrust into a new way of teaching.

But through their collective creativity, planned professional development trainings, and effective use of technology, instructors have kept students engaged and on track to meet their academic goals.

“I am really proud of the adaptability and resilience by our instructors, because it is very hard to teach in a distance-learning environment, especially with the passion they have for in-person teaching and learning,” said Justina Sapna, Delaware Tech’s vice president for academic affairs.

One of the first steps in addressing the new teaching environment was to bring together Instruction and the Center for Creative Instruction & Technology (CCIT) to hold a course design institute to help faculty members design effective distance-learning courses for D2L, the College’s learning management system.

Nearly 40 instructors attended the institute, which was sponsored by JPMorgan Chase. Working collectively at that institute and beyond, instructors and CCIT designed numerous courses that could be used by any instructor teaching that course at the College.

Individually, many instructors have taken additional steps to embrace distance learning and adapt their approach to teaching.

In the science department, Andrew Baskerville, academic support assistant and adjunct instructor, created a new lab manual for his general biology students. The labs are designed to be conducted with easily accessible items. For example, he has students use potatoes to better understand the diverse role and functions of enzymes and use dried beans to teach the mark-recapture technique used to estimate a population size. Baskerville also had students create a baby bug out of a quarter to gain a better understanding of genetics.

“I created the manual because I wanted my students to be able to do the labs at home and not simply stare at a screen or worksheet,” he said. “And I have heard in their feedback that the labs have been engaging, fun, and helpful.”

Mathematics Instructor Megan Wagaman is posting video worksheets to D2L prior to her classes so students can better prepare for upcoming lessons. Before the class meets, students watch an instructional video and then complete the related worksheet. This allows Wagaman the opportunity to provide individual feedback before the entire class comes together, and the result is more class time being devoted to using the fundamental concept covered in the lesson.

“We are able to accomplish more in class,” she said. “We are doing more word problems and equations, and, for math, I do believe there is value to writing things out.”

While the emphasis on distance learning has certainly changed the format instructors are using to teach, it hasn’t changed their commitment of support for their students, which is a critical component to success.

“It’s not just the format and content of the course that is important, but also the pedagogy and the support of the instructor,” said Sapna. “I am proud of how everyone is managing all of this.”

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