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Drake Professors Continue Education Online amidst Coronavirus

Though the coronavirus and social distancing have put an end to in-classroom meetings, for the time being, that doesn’t mean learning has stopped as well. The professors at Drake University have been utilizing tools such as Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, Google Hangouts and others to communicate with their students.

“Many instructors are using Blackboard Learn to teach in a way that lets students participate at times of their own choosing, anytime and from anywhere,” said Chris Gill, Chief Information Technology Officer at Drake. “Some instructors are using the university’s video recording platform, Panopto, to record lectures and sessions for playback for students at times they choose. Others are using tools of their own choosing based on the needs of their courses.” 

IT has recommended Blackboard Learn, Blackboard Collaborate and Panopto, among other tools, so that those in ITS can provide the highest possible support to faculty and students due to being familiar with those technologies. They’ve been supporting Blackboard Collaborate for several years and are very familiar with it, which means they can be more responsive and supportive to faculty and students who use Collaborate.

Some professors are having problems adjusting to the switch. Associate Professor of English, Amy Letter, sees the necessity of the situation but still finds herself grieving. Grieving the loss of daily in-person interactions with students on subjects, laughter, camaraderie, and the loss of those unexpected moments that happen during in-person classes where everyone, including Letter, can learn something they didn’t expect. 

“’The Medium is the Message,’ as McLuhan said, and the message conveyed by Blackboard or Zoom is more about the corporate ‘them’ than the very human ‘us,’” Letter said.

According to Letter, so much more can happen so much more quickly in a dynamic, in-person conversation than is possible online, even with the best technology.

“What gets me through my moments of gloom is just remembering the faces of the students I’m emailing,” Letter said. “I think of how much they have already lost and how much they too must be grieving, and I feel more connected to them, and I carry on.”

Working closely with faculty, ITS has developed a resources page for faculty in addition to working with faculty daily to support their transition and help them refine their tools. ITS has also created a reference page for students to use, with Gill saying that frequent communication is more important than ever.“From what ITS has observed over this week, our faculty moved quickly and responsibly to ensure that their classes could continue remotely,” Gill said. “They are working in extraordinary circumstances to ensure that Drake students continue to receive a Drake-quality education. I think that if we all approach the remainder of the semester with our core values in mind – joyful accountability, generosity of spirit, all in this together, and commitment to mission – then we can fully expect a positive and effective experience for our students.”

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