Behrend faculty adapt to pandemic teaching techniques

April 13, 2021

When faculty members in the School of Science at Penn State Behrend had to re-imagine their courses for the remote-learning COVID environment, they did what scientists do: They experimented until they got it right.

“It’s been hard for students and faculty members alike,” said Lynne Beaty, assistant professor of biology, “but I think the pandemic has pushed faculty members to be more creative in how we present information.”

She found a solution on her phone – which she mounted to an elastic headband. That freed her hands while giving students a first-person point of view.

Penn State Behrend faculty member Lynne Beaty holds an animal skull.

Lynne Beaty, an assistant professor of biology at Penn State Behrend, mounted her cell phone to a headband to give students a first-person view of lab experiments.

IMAGE: Penn State Behrend

“The students could see my hands completing the task in the manner in which they would have done it,” she said, “rather than watching me do it from a device propped up nearby.”

To engage students even more, Beaty structured a remote lab activity as a game.

“Using a predator-prey simulation online, students had to adjust predator and prey population parameters to try to get stable population cycles for 1,000 simulation time steps,” she said. “Regular population cycles were challenging to obtain, which frustrated some students, but turning anything into a game makes it more fun.”

Natalie Waddell-Rutter, lecturer in biology, adopted a different technology: She’s using Discord, a smartphone and PC application that allows users to chat via video, voice or text in real time.

“I like to ask students questions during class, but it’s very hard to hear responses from anyone beyond the first few rows, especially now that we are masked,” she said. “I thought Discord might be a way to facilitate some in-class discussion, especially since many students bring their laptops to class to follow along with the slides.”

She created chat rooms for “in-class discussion” and “random questions” and kept her own laptop open as she taught.

“It worked really well,” she said. “I would monitor the in-class discussion thread in case someone had a question during the lecture.”

For Jay Amicangelo, professor of chemistry, the solution was to “flip” his CHEM 450 course, pre-recording lectures and reserving class time for discussion and review.

“I have always used the whiteboard to present material, because it is a highly mathematical class,” he said. “I would often feel rushed in a given class to get to a certain point in my notes. Now, I have them watch the lecture in advance and use the face-to-face class session to emphasize important points in the material.”

He plans to continue teaching in that format, even after the pandemic has ended.

“I think students benefit from the extra opportunity to understand and explore the material in class, rather than just listening to me lecture,” he said.

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Last Updated April 13, 2021