A team of Maxwell School faculty led by Jennifer Karas Montez and Shannon Monnat have been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to support their research on geographic disparities in midlife mortality. Montez, University…
Newhouse Professor Embraces Technology to Deliver Interactive Hybrid Instruction
Associate Professor Barbara Fought has taught an online course for the past five years through the Newhouse School’s online master’s communications program. Her familiarity with digital learning helped her move her other courses online in the spring during the University’s transition away from residential instruction.
This fall, hybrid instruction offers new challenges. But Fought, a Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence who teaches broadcast and digital journalism, sees the opportunities—and has been preparing with new resources offered by the University that will provide even more robust online teaching.
Fought is one of a few Meredith Professors interviewed by Syracuse University News to discuss their preparation for the semester, and how they are addressing the challenges presented by social distancing guidelines in their teaching.
Meredith Professors are recognized by their peers, students and the public at large for the outstanding teaching they do at Syracuse University. This group of professors are also members of the Meredith Symposium, a permanent forum for discussing teaching and learning.
This summer, Fought has also worked one-on-one with five incoming Newhouse faculty members. This Newhouse program emphasizes good teaching throughout the fall with a series of monthly seminars and a mentorship program.
In this Q&A, Fought discusses her experience transitioning to online, the tools she’s using and academic integrity in the online classroom.
What was your experience in the spring semester when the University transitioned to online instruction?
My experience in the spring semester was generally positive, particularly for the law class that I teach, which is more of a lecture and discussion course. The bigger challenge was my skills course in which students were supposed to be in the studio producing two newscasts, and we go for eight hours all day. That was much harder to translate to online.
In the spring, it was helpful that we already had face-to-face relationships established, and so it was much easier to translate online. I am now trying to figure out how I will learn all their names since we have a new protocol that the first student entering the class takes the farthest seat and the rest follow and fill in. So they won’t be sitting in the same seat each time. I’m thinking I will have them send me a photo so I can start learning names, because it will be hard to recognize them with baseball caps and masks on.
Was this your first experience doing distance learning?
One of the advantages for me was that I have been teaching online for about five years in one of the 2U graduate programs offered through Newhouse. [2U and the Newhouse School partnered to offer a highly interactive online master’s program in communications.] I had some of the concepts down and understood how to organize the class. I will say before I started the online 2U program, I was not very positive about online teaching. But having gone through that experience, it really is effective, particularly when you can have the live sessions with students. I always thought online teaching was kind of like correspondence. You know, the student watches videos and just emails back and forth with the professor. And that is one method, but the 2U method—with the professionally recorded videos, the small little segments and the interactive activities throughout—is really a good model.
What are some of the tools you are using to prepare for the fall?
I’m really pleased that the University has purchased new software to help us teach online. The first is Kaltura. It’s a software available to all faculty that can simultaneously record a lecture accompanied by some kind of visuals and PowerPoint slides. It gives students the option to see both—to see the professor big and the slides small, and the professor small and the slides big—and it integrates into Blackboard seamlessly.
The other program available is called PlayPosit. This is software that allows you either to take a video you have recorded, or an existing video, and stop it at certain points in the video and ask students to do something, such as to answer a multiple choice question, write a short essay or look up something and respond. And that, again, integrates seamlessly into Blackboard. Newhouse faculty have had multiple training sessions all summer on these, as well as with some other software programs, so that we can all be ready and have more interactive and interesting sessions for students.
How are you approaching academic integrity with students taking exams outside of a classroom?
I’ve worked a lot in academic integrity, and I chair hearings across campus, so yes, I think I have to assume that students will have access to materials. I write the tests in that way so there aren’t answers that they could easily look up, but there are more questions that call for critical thinking. I also have asked the students to affirm, as the first question on their exam, that they will not cooperate with other students or share answers. And the research does show that if you remind students at the beginning of an assessment about academic integrity, that academic integrity does improve.
The key thing is to realize that students will have access to lots of information, so it calls for designing your tests to really tap that critical thinking and not just facts and memorization items that they can easily find online.
My practice in law courses for instance has always been that students could bring in a reference guide, a page front and back. I have found that is actually helpful because it helps them synthesize their learning in compiling that kind of reference guide. So here, I know that I encourage them to still do the reference guide while working online, but they also could have access to the textbook and other materials.
What is your preparation like heading into the semester?
My plan is to prepare several online asynchronous units on topics that I would normally introduce in class. I will use Kaltura and PlayPosit to integrate video and questions so the unit is interactive. For example, they would see a video or a short-recorded lecture, and in the middle and at the end, they answer questions to assess that they understand the material. Then I can use class time to apply those concepts, to practice writing and to have more discussions.