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Navigating the New Normal: How One Department Is Adapting to Online Instruction

“Well…now what?”

In the midst of Baylor’s transition to online classes for the remainder of the semester, many students and alumni are asking this same question.

Although what we are experiencing is all unprecedented, Baylor faculty are working diligently to answer that question.

One example is Baylor’s journalism, public relations, and new media department, which held an eight-hour meeting to understand what comes next. The meeting consisted of technical training in WebEx, Canvas, Kaltura, and Zoom to prepare faculty. However, they also decided to have the meeting as a forum of support and to brainstorming solutions as a department. (The meeting took place before the CDC’s recommendation to only hold meetings with groups of 10 or less people. It was also not required for those who are immunocompromised or regularly interact with immunocompromised individuals.)

Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez, the department’s chair, said she was among those feeling pressure and anxiety about figuring out what to do next. She said she knew her leadership role was needed to manage questions within the department.

“As soon as I heard that classes were cancelled, I immediately reached out to faculty and tried to start sending them updates each morning. A lot of us were feeling anxiety about how we were going to finish up the semester. I felt very nervous and anxious, particularly because I am the chair of the department. I felt like, not only was I concerned about what I was going to do to finish up my semester, but I also had to be there as a sounding board for faculty who were also concerned and had lots of questions. I felt it from both sides,” Dr. Moody-Ramirez said.

One solution that Dr. Moody-Ramirez came up with was to host the workshop and meet with everyone.

“We had Dr. John Solis come from the library to talk about different strategies we can use to go online, to show us what is already available on canvas, some tools that are already at our disposal, we just have to know how to use them. That was very helpful. I felt like our faculty would want to know right away the tools we could use. I emailed [Margaret] Kramer about it and asked her what she would think about having some kind of online training. From that point we went into planning mode. We reached out to different people who could come in and talk to our faculty. So we had Dr. Solis, who presented more of the technical aspect. Then we had Megan Henderson who presented from a lecturers perspective. Megan was able to show us what she is doing in her class, how she is using modules. [Dr. Solis] showed us the tools that are available and [Henderson] showed us how we could use those tools,” Dr. Moody-Ramirez said.

Amber Adamson, associate lecturer of journalism, public relations, and new media, said she is concerned about students being able to learn the skills they need to succeed in their next classes. Most of the journalism classes build upon what a student learned in the previous classes. For example, learning Adobe InDesign in one will lead to success when a student must write and prepare things for an internship later.

“We will have to have some remedial stuff in the fall. There is just no way around it with these skills classes. We have to have some kind of lab days in the fall. I think the professors that are in the next level class, need to be aware that [students] may not have gotten enough of an individual skill. That is where some communication needs to happen within the department. That is doable because we all work so close together. We have the atmosphere and the culture in our department to focus on what is best for the students. I know it is a challenge but it is not one that is insurmountable. We can either get it to them now or get it to them in the fall,” Adamson said.

The transition to online learning will also affect the way Adamson will teach some of her lessons.

“They have two stories they are supposed to complete about local Waco arts or artists. If we don’t get back to Waco those aren’t going to happen. You know, you can do a phone interview, but it isn’t the same. I wanted them to have photos. Some of them have already done them, they were supposed to be due [the Friday we got back from spring break]. For those who weren’t able to set their interviews before spring break, I don’t know. That is why I want to talk to them all,” Adamson said.

One way she plans to address issues and concerns with students is through talking to them directly.

“I do plan on having phone calls with my students, like one-on-one visits in my office will be transferred to individual phone calls at some point during this time. I do want to check in and be able to talk to each [student]. So I am going to require that,” Adamson said.

In the meeting, professors raised their concerns for the departmental exams. Within the journalism department, classes are required to take exit exams. These exams are pass or fail. In order to pass the class and move to the next one, you must pass the exam. This was of concern to some professors. However, due to the circumstances, they have decided to cancel the exit exams. The only exception is the exit exam for Journalism 4380 students will have to take it on canvas.

In a statement from the department, issues of textbooks and software were addressed. The statement read:

“The following online resources are available to students:

  • A free 30-day trial of Stylebook Online: AP Stylebook Trial
  • VitalSource offers free access to an expansive catalog of e-texts to students at semester-calendar institutions who have been impacted by recent campus closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more: Textbooks
  • Adobe is allowing free use for students for the next 30 days, even if students have already used a free trial period: Adobe Student Trial.”

Providing the information for students to find will help those who left textbooks and notes at school, but are now unable to collect them. This will also allow all students who do not have access to the Adobe Creative Cloud the opportunity to continue practicing skills taught in class.

Dr. Moody-Ramirez said she wants the department faculty to remember that this is going to be hard on everyone in different ways. But, she encouraged, it will be okay. She does not want anyone to be too hard on themselves during this process of transition.

“We talked about reaching out to our students to see what technology and what resources they have available. We need to know if they have textbooks available. We also need to know where they will be. We know students are in different time zones. If we present a lecture on WebEx we need to make sure we record it. We also talked about class management. It is going to be left up to the professor. One thing to keep in mind is the students. We need to have grace for our students because this is a difficult time for them. But also, we have to have grace for ourselves,” Dr. Moody-Ramirez said.

At the end of the statement from the faculty and staff of the department, they reminded students that everyone will move forward as a team.

“Above all else, please be careful. Practice good hygiene and safety measures deemed necessary in the face of a pandemic. This is a great opportunity for you to use the journalistic and PR skills you have used while a student in our department.”

“We will get through this crisis together. Remember, we are here for you,” the statement concludes.

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2 thoughts on “Navigating the New Normal: How One Department Is Adapting to Online Instruction”

  1. Great article, Sophia! Thanks for spending the news about our terrific department and its faculty and staff. Hope you, Jon and all the others at the Line and their families are safe and well.

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