As a global pandemic forced changes, faculty and staff pivoted programs to ensure they would continue helping students succeed, with many program flourishing in the new environment.
“I know we will have a virtual component moving forward on so many of the things we do because we’ve learned a lot about how it improves the experience,” said Dr. Andrew Goodliffe, associate dean in the UA Graduate School.
Goodliffe was an organizer of the annual Three Minute Thesis competition, a research communication competition that challenges graduate students to present a compelling oration on their research and its significance in just three minutes in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience. This year it was held virtually, and organizers wanted to enhance the experience as much as possible by allowing students to record presentations that were presented during the livestream of the contest.
More students participated this year than in recent years, and the live stream allowed for a larger audience with student’s families and friends watching across the globe, even participating in the annual audience choice selection.
“It’s really made us rethink, not only Three Minute Thesis, but a lot of other events,” Goodliffe said. “Virtual events allow us to democratize participation, and that’s a major benefit.”
A new program in the UA Culverhouse College of Business formed this summer as students scrambled to find other options for work experience as businesses were forced to pause or cancel internships. Professors put together teams of students who then partnered with local businesses to provide free consulting services, which included developing marketing strategies, reviewing business plans, or preparing social media campaigns. The students experienced working as a team on real-world projects over a compressed timeframe.
The lessons of the summer laid a foundation for a new elective course series, “Culverhouse Learning Communities.” It allows students and faculty to partner together to apply business principles to a variety of topics and hands-on learning opportunities.
“We are dedicated to equipping our students with the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to succeed in their careers,” said Dr. Lou Marino, chair of the management department and the Frank Mason Faculty Fellow in Family Business who was part of the team that developed the curriculum along with Dr. Jef Naidoo, associate professor of management and director of the Culverhouse Consulting Initiative.
“We are fortunate to work for a dean who allows us to develop innovative programming that meets our student’s needs in ways that are consistent with the values of our College,” Marino continued. “These programs help students connect with professors and their fellow students as they work together to apply key business concepts in everyday life.”
The pandemic also forced a transition of American Examples, a national professional development program led by the UA Department of Religious Studies that led to two graduate students in the department working on an innovative way to communicate difficult religious questions, which could be incorporated into the department’s curriculum if successful.
The department leads a grant from the Luce Foundation to host an interdisciplinary conference surrounding the teaching, research and public scholarship of religion in America for untenured faculty, instructors and doctoral students from around the country. Set to meet three times over the year, the conference met once before the pandemic started in March.
The second meeting turned into a summer-long virtual conversation as experienced faculty mentored those new to teaching in navigating the transition to different instruction methods needed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, said Dr. Michael Altman, associate professor of religious studies who leads the grant for UA.
The third meeting of the conference morphed into a joint project of videos that answer common questions people have about religion. Two UA grad students are working with the participants in the program to produce animated videos to answer these questions. The videos will eventually be posted on YouTube.
“It’s been remarkably good training for the two grad students, learning these video editing and software skills, and collaborating on something designed for an entry-level understanding of religion,” Altman said.
Ingenuity was used to transition the UA Graduate School’s annual training workshop for new graduate teaching assistants, which normally draws about 350 teaching assistants for a two-day program in the Bryant Conference Center on campus.
Instead, organizers Dr. Cathy Pagani, associate dean of the Graduate School, and Elizabeth Bennett, an instructor in Women’s Studies and doctoral student in the College of Education, used recorded presentations on topics related to teaching from past workshops along with live sessions and Q&A, and interactive assessments along with feedback from experienced teaching assistants to live streamed teaching demonstrations.
“The subject area is teaching engagement, so we didn’t want to do something that was bad practice,” Pagani said. “They could see how this could work and use some of these techniques in their own classroom.”
Students who might normally miss the in-person workshop were able to attend and people normally shy about speaking up were able to ask questions in the video’s chat function, Pagani said. Even UA President Stuart R. Bell, who normally opens the conference, was able to record a message and make a surprise appearance in one of the video conference sessions, she said.
“Given the short time frame to pull this off and re-conceptualize an entire two-day workshop, it went better than expected,” Pagani said.
This story uses some information originally written by Stephanie Cohen, a junior studying marketing and public relations from Reno, Nevada, for the Culverhouse College of Business.