College of Education community meets challenges presented by pandemic

Jim Carlson
June 12, 2020

Teachers at all levels pride themselves on being ready for just about anything, and professors and instructors in Penn State’s College of Education quickly discovered that their college was prepared to meet the challenges caused by the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Words such as community and collaboration, as well as support and stability, best describe what faculty, staff and students encountered when Penn State quickly shifted to remote learning in mid-March.


Jason Griffith

IMAGE: Penn State

“While the rapidness of the transition and the uncertainty of the early days of the pandemic presented a unique challenge, one of the factors that allowed us to pivot successfully was the strength of our community,” said Jason Griffith, assistant professor of education (language and literacy education).

“Our college responded with a spirit of collaboration and generosity with leaders stepping up to coordinate resources, to discuss concerns and to support one another, and all of these conversations revolved around our students' needs and experiences.”

The College of Education reacted quickly to face the daunting challenge, according to Scott Metzger, associate professor of education (social studies education).

“As a community, we had already invested in the technology and supported many faculty and instructors in exploring educational technology. We are lucky to have an entire department of experts in learning technologies who offered support for adapting courses to a new environment,” Metzger said. 


Scott Metzger

IMAGE: Penn State

“I was amazed by the results. Dean [Kim] Lawless organized a community-level response and collaborative vision through frequent communication and updates. This enabled us to communicate clear, reliable information to our education students and confidently go through the rest of the semester. I’m very proud to report that the education students I work with were able to complete all their requirements and proceed as planned for next year.”

 Al D’Ambrosia, instructor of education, curriculum and instruction field experiences pre-service teaching, said he was impressed with the ingenuity and determination his students used to make the situation work as effectively as possible.

“Because of the COVID-19 virus, all schools closed and remote learning became the new normal. Within a week’s time, we all needed to adapt and provide the guidance for our students to continue moving forward with their teaching experience,” D’Ambrosia said. “It didn’t take long for the student teachers to see the importance of continuing to work with their mentors and meet the challenges of remote learning.

“These student teachers did amazing work with their students and instead of being discouraged saw this as an opportunity to challenge themselves to be creative and try things they might not have normally considered. They were now focused on what they could do to make the transition to remote learning as smooth as possible for their students.”


Bryan Henninger

IMAGE: Penn State

Maintaining student engagement in a remote learning setting was important to Bryan Henninger, a first-year instructor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. He stressed the importance of a synchronous class format, tried to use all the features of Zoom to keep his students engaged, made certain his students understood he was available if they had any questions and sent a survey that students could fill out anonymously regarding their online experience with his class.

He also made time for conversations about students’ lives outside of the classroom. “The goal was that our virtual classroom resembled our physical classroom; it was a place to learn, collaborate, engage and laugh,” Henninger said.

Xiaoguang Yao, assistant professor of education (mathematics education), also maintained synchronous instruction throughout his three-hour class.


Xiaoguang Yao

IMAGE: Penn State

“I frequently used breakout rooms to have students work in small groups; I sometimes embedded student-led Zoom presentations into instruction,” Yao said. “Because my course focused on teaching mathematics in technology-intensive learning environments, these short presentations, about 10 minutes, were often about how to teach a particular mathematical idea with specific types of technology.”

Griffith noted that an essential skill for a teacher is being able to pivot in response to surprises.

“Many faculty in our College teach both residential courses on campus as well as online classes through World Campus and are uniquely situated to consider the strengths of both settings for all potential fall contingencies, which is part of why we successfully adapted so quickly this past spring.” 

Metzger cited the feeling of community within the College of Education. “There truly is no other place like Penn State,” he said. “We want our students to feel confident knowing that our faculty and staff are ready to help them overcome any challenges. No students should feel they have to go it alone — from department staff, to program faculty, to the Office of the Dean, our students are our first priority. 

“A promise I feel I can make on behalf of all my colleagues is that if a student comes to us ready to learn, we will be ready and eager to teach no matter what the situation. If undergraduate education weren’t a career mission for me, I wouldn’t be here,” Metzger said.

Yao expressed similar sentiment in regard to the College meeting students’ needs. “I am an educator and have dedicated myself to provide high-quality education experiences for all students I work with,” he said. “I believe faculty members in the College of Education have the expertise and commitment to meet (students’) educational needs regardless of the learning spaces.”

"Penn State is more than a campus, more than facilities; it is a community."

-Bryan Henninger, instructor of Curriculum and Instruction

Henninger noted that he would tell prospective students about the tireless, behind-the-scenes work that went into the spring semester transition.

“I would explain that Penn State is more than a campus, more than facilities; it is a community. There is a spirit to Penn State that will continue regardless of the format,” he said. “Penn State will be prepared to offer students the Penn State experience and, of course, the highest class of education.

“President Eric Barron’s statement that there is only one Penn State is felt across the entire campus. It is present in faculty meetings, students’ conversations, classrooms (both virtual and on-campus), and throughout the community. Penn State is a diverse community that draws on the strengths of all members of its community. Being part of this dynamic community is a decision a student will never regret,” Henninger said.

While adapting as seamlessly as possible to remote learning, Griffith believes educators may have discovered a teachable moment.

“What is particularly unique about teacher education is that, in addition to learning content and teaching strategies, there’s always a chance to go ‘meta’ and to consider teaching and learning from the perspectives of student and teacher simultaneously,” he said.

“This is such a momentous time to study education and to consider the central role of a teacher not just as an educator but as a community figure and a social support especially during times of crisis.”

Griffith was a junior undergraduate education major during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and he said during his time as a middle and high school English teacher he had to find ways to continue to educate and connect with students during times of national and local tragedies.

“To consider how we take care of ourselves while also holding space for students and the way that a teacher is called upon to do these while also fostering learning is a central question, and this is an unprecedented time to consider it,” Griffith said. “We have an opportunity to reconsider and re-essentialize the teaching profession, which is exciting to take part in.”

“We Are” stories

The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 01, 2020