Jody Greene is eager—almost desperate—to help her colleagues who are facing the unprecedented challenge of shifting to remote instruction for the entire spring quarter. Her email signature is loaded with hot links, a call for "radical sharing," and encouragement to "get cozy with this great guide to teaching remotely, start to finish."
As the director of the Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning (CITL), Greene is on the front lines, hearing the fears and frustrations of faculty and teaching staff who feel overwhelmed by the prospect of redesigning their courses so swiftly. She has been working 100-hour weeks with her "tiny but mighty" team from CITL, in partnership with Online Education, the Faculty Instructional Technology Center, and Academic Divisional Computing, to push out tools and resources to ease the burden--from workshops and written instructions to video demonstrations.
"It's unprecedented to move 1,500 instructors into remote teaching," said Greene. "I recognize the enormous burden it puts on instructors to redesign courses for remote learning in spring quarter. We are providing support as best we can."
CITL and the Division of Student Success are rolling out two websites today to address the needs of instructors (including Teaching Assistants) and students, keepteaching.ucsc.edu and keeplearning.ucsc.edu. Content is being developed locally, and carefully selected from teaching centers around the country, to address the needs and concerns of the UCSC teaching community and students.
"There's a fantastic site from Rice University to make sure we're thinking about educational equity as we begin to design remote courses," said Greene. (That's one of the hot links in her signature.)
Greene is quick to acknowledge the unique challenges of offering a course entirely remotely—a challenge that's distinct from wrapping up the end of a 10-week course, as instructors did for winter quarter.
"The students don't know each other, so how do they introduce themselves?" she asked. "How do you find out what barriers they're facing? How do you find out about things like technology and their ability to attend because of jobs and time zones?"
Courses can be offered live in real time—known as synchronous remote teaching—or pre-recorded, known as asynchronous instruction. "These pose different design challenges," said Greene. "Asynchronous has greater capacity to accommodate time zones, limited internet access, and things like illness, but it's important to make sure there's at least one synchronous meeting per week, even if some students won’t be able to attend in real time"
"All of this requires new and different prep for instructors," said Greene. "I don't want to minimize the difficulty of that task, especially when instructors are facing unprecedented stresses in every other area of their lives.”
Getting through finals, looking ahead to Spring Quarter
Susan Strome, chair of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, said students are experiencing such high levels of anxiety and stress during finals week that figuring out how to offer them optimal instruction during spring quarter is imperative.
"This is the time to focus on giving the best instruction to any students who choose to stay enrolled," she said. Strome, who has been recognized for the excellence of her own teaching, is working with PBSci Associate Dean Grant Hartzog and John Tamkun, head of the department's curriculum committee, to develop alternative options to in-person labs, since all in-person instruction has been suspended for spring quarter.
"It's all hands on deck," she said. "Every department is scrambling like we are. We have to figure out what's feasible and what's in the students' best interest."
Amanda Smith, assistant professor of literature, echoed Strome's comments, saying faculty are struggling. "This is not easy," she said.
Smith has years of experience with hybrid teaching that blends in-person and remote instruction, and she has reached out to her colleagues as a CITL "ambassador" to share her knowledge about Canvas, the learning management system UCSC uses as a portal for remote teaching.
"I use Canvas extensively because I use a flipped classroom model, where students do a lot at home so that we can use most of our class time to go deeper into course materials," she said.
As the campus shifts to remote delivery of instruction, Smith is concerned about her students, most of whom are first-generation Latinx women who have worked hard to access higher education. For students who will be expected to look after younger siblings who are no longer in school because of the coronavirus outbreak, Smith says asynchronous delivery is the more equitable option, rather than asking students to show up at scheduled course times.
But her concerns extend more broadly, as well. "I want to recognize that this is a really hard time not just for students, but for faculty and staff," she said. "Faculty are really worried about this transition."
As faculty at UCSC and universities across the country ramp up to deliver their courses remotely, online education is going to be tested as never before. But Greene is skeptical about the value of what she calls the "Great Remote Learning Hack of 2020."
"This isn't going to tell us anything about fully designed online education courses," said Greene. "It's not going to inform us, positively or negatively, because this is such a unique challenge. We will never again choose to move the whole university to remote learning for an entire quarter."
Greene continued: "Where there is value is seeing faculty turning to each other as resources for teaching. What people are going to learn is that they can work together collectively around teaching, and they can be resources for each other, even when no one is an expert. This will get us through the current situation, and ultimately, they will learn that teaching is more pleasurable and more intellectually interesting when they participate in it in the company of others."
"Everyone is sharing the burden"
Stacy Philpott in Environmental Studies wasn't teaching in winter quarter, so she has relied heavily on CITL to learn how to better use Zoom in advance of her spring quarter agroecology field course. The class has historically been about 25 percent field trips and field work, so she is reimagining that and figuring out how to offer "virtual" tours.
"I'm kind of looking forward to figuring out what kind of virtual field trips we can offer," said Philpott. "On the upside, people all over the country are sharing information and ideas and setting up wikis. Everyone is sharing the burden."
With dozens of environmental studies students facing cancelled field classes, as well as aborted study abroad and UC/DC experiences, the department is "combining forces" to up enrollments and ensure that undergraduates can get the classes they need, including two-credit internships, offered remotely, that might be needed to maintain financial aid eligibility, and senior "capstone" experiences required for graduation.
Questions of access are on Philpott's mind, as well, and she worries about students who lack access to the internet, adding that a message from ITS about efforts to secure low-cost options was welcome. As the director of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, she wonders how the UCSC Farm and Alan Chadwick Garden will continue to produce food for campus dining halls, pop-ups, and no-cost outlets at a moment when food insecurity among students is likely to jump. "We usually have around 40 apprentices, 45 student interns, 16 student staff," she said. "We're down to 10 staff and a few student staff who want to keep producing and delivering food."
The show must go on
When it comes to making the speedy pivot to remote teaching, Interim Arts Dean Ted Warburton conjures up the old adage, "The show must go on!"
"What's most difficult is the canceling of actual performances," said Warburton. "The opera is a huge favorite for everybody, but it just won't be an option for this year."
Warburton is impressed by the creative problem solving he's seeing among arts faculty. "Each field has really unique challenges, and we've been meeting regularly," he said. "What's encouraging is how department chairs have pushed out this information and engaged the entire faculty in problem solving."
CITL has been "fantastic," he said. "I've pointed faculty to CITL a lot. It's been important for reducing anxiety and giving faculty a sense of agency about the possibilities of remote teaching beyond Zoom."
With the cancelation of all labs and studio instruction, Warburton laments that facilities and materials like the bronze forge, musical instruments, and "our bodies connecting together in person" won't be options, but he is inspired by his colleagues' determination to provide students with a good experience in the arts.
"We are the smallest academic division so we tend to rely on each other," he said.
This quarter, he noted, Open Studios went virtual, with YouTube links to other courses showing final projects. In Film and Digital Media, faculty hope to allow students to check out cameras for the entire quarter rather than just a few days. They are also looking into ways to give students access to stream or share films owned by the campus.
In Music, lecturer Brian Baumbusch will compose a piece for members of the wind ensemble that is especially tailored for remote instruction. Individual performers will record their parts remotely throughout the quarter, and students will combine these musical fragments to create a final, cohesive piece. "Cool, right?" exclaimed Warburton.
In Dance, Associate Professor Gerald Casel and lecturer Rashad Pridgen are collaborating on a studio course, as well as the faculty-directed dance show, to produce a "Dance for Camera" class that features video documentation of hip-hop and street dance.
"This is what artists do, because the show must go on," said Warburton. "We are incorrigible optimists. People have something to learn from us artists."
Besides, he said, "The idea of shutting down and not serving our students is not an option. Students will learn from this, too—how you behave in a crisis. It's about coming together, supporting each other, and forging ahead."