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Educators reflect on a year of online learning

The faculty members were nominated by students for their inclusive instructional practices.

By Melissa Cermak, Ph.D.

May 5, 2021

As Metropolitan State University of Denver approaches the end of the spring semester, it felt like a good time to reflect and express appreciation to all faculty members who worked hard to make their courses accessible and engaging.   

We at the Access Center and the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design have been impressed by how faculty members incorporated inclusive practices into their classes. The Access Center asked students to nominate faculty members who they felt exemplified inclusive instruction. We then asked the nominated faculty members to reflect on their experience with online learning. We hope you will watch the companion video that highlights our exceptional faculty:

What were your thoughts and feelings when you learned MSU Denver would move to online learning last spring?   

“I was worried and stressed because I’d never done anything like it – I was worried my students wouldn’t want to learn at home, that we didn’t have the right materials to complete the class and that everything would basically implode and we’d have to do spring over again.” – Jennifer Watson, RDN, lecturer, Restaurant Management

“My first thoughts were that this would be hard for me and that students would not learn as much. I teach future teachers of young children. ... I couldn’t imagine how I could help them become effective teachers if we weren’t working hands-on ourselves. Then I realized that it was a great opportunity to learn alongside all the other teachers in the country how to translate what we do to remote learning.” – Dorothy Shapland, Ed.D., assistant professor, Special Education

What changes did you make to adapt to online learning that ended up being positive for you and your students?

“My students have really embraced cooking at home, which surprised me. In some ways, this was an even better learning experience for students. In my larger cooking classes, students would work in groups, and not everyone would get to prepare all the dishes. Cooking at home, students got to prepare all of the foods themselves and experience all the steps in creating a dish.” – Watson

“I invited students to ask questions if they did not understand something, and I went out of my way to thank them when they asked questions. On a few occasions, I sent everyone in the class the question and the answer in which I thanked the student who posed the question for their help. I did not name the student, but I think the approach encouraged others to ask questions.” – Stephen Leonard, Ph.D., professor, History

“Our program embeds Trauma-informed Practices into the coursework, so offering patience, understanding and compassion is a big part of what we expect our future teachers to be able to do. I found (a greater need) to model that with my students. They faced struggles of every stripe in this past year, and they needed the space to work toward mastery in ways and timeframes that pushed the edges of my flexibility. In the end, students really came through and did everything and more because they appreciated the grace.” – Shapland

What changes or practices are you considering keeping in place when we transition back to in-person learning?

“Initially, I was not fond of modules, but I recognized that a standard approach across the University had merit and that modules helped students pace themselves. I was always flexible about accepting late work, but I became more flexible beginning in March 2020 and built much more flexibility into the structure of online courses starting in fall 2020. I found that helped students and made my life somewhat easier.” – Leonard

“I will maintain the compassionate grading and offering of grace – the trauma-informed teaching practices that were so essential this past year. As students have less need, they will ask for that support less, and it will become easier to provide it on an individual basis. I won’t go back to a hard-line approach to much of anything. This year has really taught me how to be fully trauma-informed in my teaching.” – Shapland

What helpful supports and resources were provided to assist with your transition to remote learning?

“I have to give so much credit to my fellow faculty and staff in the School of Hospitality for making online cooking classes work. Our Dean Christian Hardigree helped us define what successful online classes look like, so we knew what we were aiming for, even if we didn’t always get there. As a school, the faculty and staff have been trying to support each other through video calls, emails and cheerleading on the sidelines as we all redefine our teaching styles and methodologies.” – Watson

“The tutorials provided by the University in summer 2020 were helpful, as were suggestions for places to look for more information about Canvas. Others in the History Department gladly shared their expertise, particularly faculty members Matt Maher, Todd Laugen, Ph.D., and Matt Makley, Ph.D.” – Leonard

“The Effective Online Teaching course was amazing and kept me learning all year. I feel so much more confident about being able to support learning in online settings now.” – Shapland

As you reflect on the past year with online learning, what are your thoughts and feelings?

“I feel like my students learned a lot, just in a different way than students in my previous semesters. Online cooking classes make students a little more self-reliant than being on campus, where I would encourage and direct them in the cooking labs. I think those skills will serve them well in an industry (hospitality) that has been greatly impacted, and will continue to be shaped, by the pandemic. I hope that my students will look at our creative problem-solving in the School of Hospitality and be inspired to find their own solutions to problems we haven’t even imagined yet.” – Watson

“Although I doubt that most students will under normal circumstances take more than a couple of online classes per semester, I suspect that some found the availability of many new online offerings helpful. I hope that the University capitalizes on this by continuing to present a wide range of online offerings. That will benefit both students and the institution.” – Leonard

“I hope we don’t have to teach everything from home ever again, but I’m glad I had the experience and I know I’ve grown as an instructor.” – Shapland

The Access Center and the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design would like to thank all of our outstanding MSU Denver faculty and to give special thanks and recognition to student Anneliese Grygiel for her participation in the video.

The following faculty members were also nominated by students for their support and contributed to this article and the accompanying video:

  • Steve Krizman, assistant professor, Journalism and Media Production
  • Summer Trentin, Ph.D., associate professor, Art
  • Paula McGuire, Ph.D., assistant professor, Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences
  • Rebecca Canges, Ed.D., associate professor, Special Education
  • John Rief, Ph.D., lecturer, Communication Studies
  • Eunjoo Kang, Ph.D., assistant professor, Event and Meeting Management
  • Rosemarie Allen, Ed.D., associate professor, Early Childhood Education
  • Jennifer Stover, Early Childhood Education
  • Anna Ropp, Ph.D., associate professor, Psychological Sciences
  • Marina Gorlach, Ph.D., professor, Linguistics
  • Xiansheng Tian, Ph.D., professor, History
  • Katherine Hill, Ph.D., associate professor, Psychological Sciences

Topics: Academics, Access, Center for Teaching, Learning and Design, Excellence, Inclusion, Online Learning

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