Fontbonne Faculty Get Creative with Online Learning

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When Fontbonne moved classes online in March, faculty quickly adapted to the new distance learning environment. Previous assignments were reimagined for an online context as instructors got creative with their syllabi.

Teaching (and Learning) from Home

Work by Fine Arts instructor Tony Borchardt

Tony Borchardt, an instructor in the Fine Arts department, found himself faced with the challenge of teaching ceramics students wheel throwing techniques online. Although he had been encouraged by friends to film his process in the past, he never wanted to before COVID-19. Now, with a class of students who couldn’t stand beside him in the ceramics studio, he realized it was time to learn a new skill — video production.

“It was an area I never thought I would get into,” says Borchardt. “I started by creating weekly assignments that focused on videos I made. I created many new and updated PowerPoints to get the information needed to my students, and this was a big benefit to really refocus on the information in the PowerPoints to make sure they had all the details and not just a shortened rendition.”

In the Math and Computer Science Department, instructor Lauren Miller began spitting out screencasts for her algebra and statistics courses at an astonishing rate. Just since the advent of COVID-19, she has produced over 100 concise, engaging instructional videos on her YouTube channel.

“I wanted to be able to continue to support my students,” Miller says. “These videos are a great tool that can be used by my students for online or in-person classes.”

Family and Consumer Sciences instructor Dena French also had to rethink her approach to the dietetics internship class.

Refashioned T-shirt by a student in Ruth Adikorley’s fashion merchandising class

“Normally, I would serve as a facilitator for the internship by introducing them to their site preceptors and grading their projects,” says French. “However, with limited site availability due to the COVID-19 pandemic I am also providing alternative and simulation projects that are designed to provide experiences similar to those they would obtain at sites. These include case studies for clinical experience, newsletters and social media posts for community experience and creating a menu for a home meal service and consumer waste study for food service management experience.”

Ruth Adikorley’s fashion merchandising classes also had to find new ways to learn about apparel construction, production and evaluation. Since most of the students didn’t have sewing machines at home, she created a project that could be completed with limited equipment.

“I gave a refashioned project in my sewing class that required students to use a T-shirt and transform it into another garment using three other materials,” Adikorley says. “It was so interesting to see the final results!”

Staying Connected

Knowing the importance of maintaining a connection with students, many faculty members have also been holding virtual office hours and advising sessions.

“It really helped me to be able to see their faces, and for them to see mine,” says Mary Beth Ohlms, a professor in Family and Consumer Sciences.

In addition to virtual office hours and advising appointments, Ohlms gave students the opportunity to practice their final presentations with her over Zoom before they presented to the class. Five of her students took advantage of the offer, and she helped walk them through logging in and sharing their screen, answering any questions they had along the way.

“Two of those were non-traditional students with less technology experience,” Ohlms says. “They did a wonderful job — I was so proud of them.”

Asynchronous Learning

Some classes chose to move to an asynchronous format, where they watch lectures and complete assignments on their own time, while others decided to continue with synchronous learning — simply transitioning from an in-person classroom to a virtual one.

Instructor James Fortney’s gender communication class was scheduled to meet one night a week, and when classes moved online, they decided to shift to an asynchronous approach. Fortney held office hours during the regularly scheduled class time and used discussion boards to facilitate interaction between students.

“Online discussion boards are a wonderful conversion option for face-to-face discussions, particularly in communication courses,” he says. “It was exciting to see every student contribute original ideas to each week’s discussion and then react to posts made by other students.”

In Lisa Oliverio’s English classes, all of the coursework shifted to videos, screencasts and PowerPoints. She also hosted optional weekly meetings via Zoom, allowing students to check in, discuss readings and assignments and enjoy each other’s company.

“My central focus in transitioning courses online was to create a space for community and a sense of normalcy in a moment when we are isolated and experiencing chaos,” Oliverio says. “In recognition of the rapid changes many students are experiencing, my key goal was flexibility.”

Moving Forward

While the transition to online learning wasn’t always easy, Fontbonne’s faculty rose to the challenge.

“I learned that even a professor who is retiring in one year can adapt and teach online,” Ohlms says. “I feel like I worked harder because I didn’t want to let my students down. I wanted them to have a true Fontbonne experience.”

Even though teaching online was a new experience for many faculty members, they knew what mattered most: staying organized, building community, communicating frequently and teaching compassionately.

“I don’t feel we lost anything by moving our courses online,” says instructor James Fortney. “This experience has made me much more open to teaching communication courses online in the future.”

Meet the Faculty

In between making videos, hosting Zoom sessions and grading assignments, our faculty have found some pretty interesting ways to make use of their time in quarantine. Find out what a few of them have been up to below!

Ruth Adikorley (Fashion Merchandising)

How have you been using your time in quarantine?

My time in quarantine was mostly used in preparing lectures and new assignments for classes, spending time online with family and friends, and cooking. 

What are you reading, watching or listening to?

I am currently taking a course in inclusive teaching. In terms of TV shows/movies, I’ve watched “Hollywood,” “The Last Kingdom“ and “Molly’s Game.”

Tony Borchardt (Fine Arts)

How have you been using your time in quarantine?

I have been steadily working on my new line of ceramic work. It has been a new process for me the past year and a half. It has finally come into its final stages and I am excited to see the developments of it on a daily basis. A lot of work still to go, but I am happy with the new body of work. 

What are you reading, watching or listening to right now?

I am always on the move and barely take time to sit. It’s just not in my DNA. I have been using all of those components to research and improve my skills with metal welding techniques and wood working. I enjoy both of these areas very much and I have had some projects on hold in both areas so it’s been nice to stretch out in the arts and do something a little different.

James Fortney (Communication)

How have you been using your time in quarantine?

I live in downtown St. Louis and have been enjoying long walks around the Arch grounds each day. I’ve also been meeting virtually with family and friends for drinks. The best part of this experience has been re-connecting with old friends from high school and college.

What are you reading, watching or listening to right now?

I’ve been reading novels by Haruki Murakami and watching lots of shows on Netflix. “Madam Secretary,” “Ozark” and “Hollywood” have been shuffling in the queue each night. As far as music goes, I’ve finally been able to enjoy my dad’s vinyl collection that he gave me a few years ago.

Dena French (Family and Consumer Sciences)

How have you been using your time in quarantine?

I have been busy with work so there really hasn’t been a lot of time for much else! I do enjoy working from home with my husband and two cats as my office mates.

What are you reading, watching or listening to right now?

We have been trying to watch more comedies and light-hearted shows. Two that I am enjoying right now are “Dave” and “What We Do in the Shadows.” I am reading a book called “Namaste the Hard Way” by Sasha Brown-Worsham.

Lauren Miller (Mathematics and Computer Science)

How have you been using your time in quarantine?

I love to sew! My mother taught me when I was three. I have been catching up on some projects I started last summer. I primarily make clothes for myself using vintage patterns!

What are you reading, watching or listening to right now?

I’m watching the documentary “College Behind Bars.” As an educator of incarcerated students, I found it especially difficult to transition their course online. Incarcerated students do not have the same resources available to them as my other students. It is especially important to keep this student population in mind during this time. 

Mary Beth Ohlms (Family and Consumer Sciences)

How have you been using your time in quarantine?

My husband is retired and he took great care of me during this stressful time. If we had a meal, he prepared it. Also, we continued to babysit our six-year-old triplet granddaughters on Fridays. My daughter is a single mom so we have been doing that since they were born. I basically taught kindergarten on Fridays, and I enjoy teaching adults MUCH more than elementary school kids!

What are you reading, watching or listening to right now?

I listen to Joy 99.1 Christian Radio Station all the time while I’m working. I’m reading another book club book “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips. Also, I’m in an Anti-Racist Book Club with some of my fellow faculty. We are starting “The Racial Healing Handbook“ by Anneliese A. Singh. My husband and I love to watch “Midsommer Murders,” a British murder mystery show, and we are still hooked on “Survivor.” We do miss watching the Cardinals!

Lisa Oliverio (English)

How have you been using your time in quarantine?

I have two small children, so much of time is dedicated to elementary and preschool homeschooling (which I am not good at!). We have been baking way too many sweet treats and taking lots of walks in our neighborhood.

What are you reading, watching or listening to right now?

I am currently reading Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys.” I prefer lighter fare for television right now, so we are re-watching the entire series of “Community.”

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