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UIS Puts Hands-On Learning On Remote

Shannon O'Brien
University of Illinois Springfield
UIS ceramics professor Shane Harris instructs a class before the pandemic.

University of Illinois Springfield has transitioned to all-remote learning as the state stays at home.

Like many colleges, University of Illinois Springfield classes have transitioned to an online-only format to comply with the state’s efforts to combat the new coronavirus.

The transition has not been without difficulty for instructors.

  Some professors, by the very nature of what they teach, have run head-long into plenty of online obstacles.

Shane Harris is an associate professor of ceramics at UIS. He said teaching his ceramics course remotely is something he was a little apprehensive about.

“I’ve been asked multiple times to teach online, but the reality is it’s a hands-on course,” Harris said. “You learn by making and doing and interacting, and, so, virtually it’s a lot more challenging to do that in my field.”

To keep it hands-on, Harris has had to figure out how to send physical art supplies to his students. His director told him to use department funds to pay for it. 

“So I ended up, with my student workers, called every single one of my students and asked them, ‘are you going to be back on campus? Can you pick up the clay? If not, then I am going to ship it to you,’” Harris said.

Harris said he’s not tech-savvy and says he never used the teaching website Blackboard before last week, but he said his students are helping him learn the ropes.

Those who are training the next generation of medical workers are also facing difficulties.  More healthcare professionals are needed now more than even, but a lot of classes in the field involve hands-on experiences. 

Amandalee Adams is an assistant professor in the department of allied health, the medical laboratory science program at UIS. She said she’s providing students those hands-on experiences by:

“Going out and looking at videos and critiquing those videos so that the students can watch them and can develop some skill sets that we can work with over the summer,” Adams said.

Adams said, like any healthcare worker, she adapted and overcame online teaching challenges  by tackling them head-on, despite not being comfortable with certain things.

She said the university’s Information Technology Services and COLRS, the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service, provided instructors resources to help make remote teaching a possibility.

“They sent us a virtual link for a couple of labs that the students could actually practice online some of those skill sets, and so I passed those on to the students, but if we foresee this for much longer, I’ll have to get a little bit more creative for sure,” Adams said.

COLRS Director Vickie Cook said her department  anticipated teachers quickly having to convert classes into a different medium.

“Having that collapsed time to take what normally they would have several weeks to prepare, and in the middle of the semester, try to change tracks for modality is very difficult,” Cook said.

Cook said the center has been helping teachers with the transition by introducing faculty to a bunch of different online teaching methods.

”And they’re doing that primarily through readings, interactive activities online that they’ve pulled together, videos that they have done or pulled together from other faculty in those same disciplines that have allowed their videos to be used,” Cook said.

There are also several faculty members across the country who are sharing their own lab experiences to try to help teachers build a content base that can be shared with other schools. 

Brian Chen is an assistant professor of public health at UIS. He attended the two workshops COLRS set up for faculty members to help prepare teachers for the transition.

He said he learned how to connect to a VPN from his home when conducting class

“[If] the faculty or instructor needs to work from home, they need to connect their office computers, then this is the knowledge they need to learn,” Chen said.

He said instructors now have the choice to gather with students and interact in “real time” or to prepare course materials for students in advance.

Now it’s in the students’ hands.

Mike Smith is a graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legislative session.
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