Feature Story

First Class

August 20, 2020 – by A.L. Davies ’19

Ohio Wesleyan’s fall semester is underway with faculty having spent the spring and summer preparing to teach their courses to both in-person and remote learners. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

Professors Set to Ensure an Ohio Wesleyan-Caliber Educational Experience for Students

Whether Ohio Wesleyan University faculty are six feet from students, on screen, or a combination of both, their commitment is the same.

“We are professors who teach and mentor first. We know our students,” says Mary Anne Lewis Cusato, associate professor of French & Francophone Studies.

Ready for Every Situation

To foster a safe campus environment during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio Wesleyan faculty spent the summer creating and remodeling courses for the fall semester. With a mixture of virtual, physically distanced in-person, and hybrid models, professors are ready to carry on OWU’s tradition of outstanding teaching and personal attention. And they’re ready to pivot.

“We will be as flexible as possible to allow students to learn in a mode that is comfortable for them physically and challenging for them mentally,” says Barbara Andereck, professor of Physics and Astronomy.

Providing Exceptional Opportunities

Sean Kay, professor of Politics and Government, says he also wants to continue providing students with access to first-class guest speakers.

So far for fall, Kay has lined up Zoom visits with experts including Lee Unkrich, Oscar-winning movie director of “Toy Story III” and “Coco”; Thom Shanker, deputy Washington editor of The New York Times; Susan Eisenhower, biographer and granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower; Scott Sagan, Stanford University professor and widely cited international relations scholar; Lauren Sullivan, co-founder and co-director of Reverb, a nonprofit that helps rock ’n’ rollers “green” their tours; and former R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs.

Maintaining Relationships

Paul Dean, associate professor of Sociology, assures students that he’s keeping the best part of teaching—relationships—at the core of his curriculum even though he’ll be teaching remotely. In fact, he’s redesigned his courses and assignments around personalized interactions with his students, maintaining the trademark individualized mentorship of in-person courses.

Like Dean, Andrea Colvin, associate professor of Spanish, is excited about the interactive opportunities virtual learning provides her students. In preparing for fully remote instruction, Colvin attended workshops and a virtual Teaching Professor Conference, collaborated with faculty groups at OWU, and studied research on how to best support online learning.

‘Students Still Get Us’

For faculty using a hybrid online and in-person model, courses are specifically designed so both parts complement each other.

Professors like Zack Long (English) and Ellen Arnold (History) want to build community among students, give them space for individual exploration, and keep them safe by using technology.

For example, Long will have his students create a class blog so they have an online hub to share work when not physically together. He also plans to use the commenting app Perusall to mimic back-and-forth discussions with students.

“Students still get us,” Arnold says, quoting a colleague from University Advancement. “Sometimes it’s 2-D rather than 3-D versions, but it’s us.”

Developing New Teaching Methods

Faculty incorporating virtual learning are especially focused on aspects of their discipline that work well online.

Using a National Science Foundation grant awarded to OWU, Laurie Anderson, professor of Botany-Microbiology, is working with national networks of ecologists to develop new teaching methods that help her students learn by direct experiences.

“I’m developing exercises where students collect real data in natural spaces wherever they are: on campus, in city parks, or at home,” she says. Anderson is also holding open Zoom sessions while her students perform data analysis for experiments, providing them freedom to independently learn and a resource should they need help.

Preparing Students for ‘Great Things’

Those holding in-person classes, including Erin Flynn, professor of Philosophy, also have contingency plans so the course can seamlessly transition to a hybrid or online model if needed. For students choosing to attend classes remotely rather than in-person, special efforts such as virtual office hours, electronic handouts, and supplemental lecture videos are available.

On campus and online, Lewis Cusato is confident that quality, engagement, and effective teaching remain tenets of OWU’s classroom culture.

“I know, trust, and respect my colleagues,” says Lewis Cusato, who also serves as co-director of the Global Studies Institute and the Palmer Global Scholars Program. “With our energy, expertise, creativity, and mentorship, OWU students do great things all over the world.”