Since the onset of the pandemic, classes at MSU have been primarily online to promote health and safety efforts. The shift from in-person to remote classes prompted significant reconfigurations of the fall and spring semesters’ courses to online formats. Throughout this transition, Dr. Adán Quan and Dr. Ethan Watrall have provided tremendous support in modifying classes as the Department of Anthropology’s resident experts in remote education. Their assistance has included creating an online teaching guide for instructors and holding group and individual sessions with faculty to help develop their courses, work through technical or tool-based issues, and address topics of engagement and online pedagogy.
Both professors are highly experienced in developing and teaching online courses. Dr. Quan created the Department’s first online course about fifteen years ago and has been involved in various campus-wide online education groups and initiatives. Dr. Watrall has directed the Department’s summer online course program since its inception in 2013, helping shape the Department’s online course strategy and model, coordinating the development of new online classes, and mentoring graduate student instructors.
Drs. Quan and Watrall are very proud of the immense effort the Anthropology faculty have put in to master the fundamentals of effective online teaching. In converting in-person courses to online formats, the faculty gave great consideration to adapting their courses and teaching with this new, and possibly unfamiliar, medium. The faculty embraced the innovative opportunities that online teaching provides and the idea that in-person classes cannot simply be copied onto an online platform. At the core of this work has been a sincere concern for the students’ experience and wellbeing during these exceedingly difficult times.
The pedagogy of online teaching in the Department varies according to what is appropriate for each course. While synchronous teaching continues, many faculty have successfully created courses that can be delivered asynchronously. Dr. Watrall notes that one of the benefits asynchronous courses offer is providing an environment in which students can balance the stresses of the current situation and the obligations of completing coursework. Additionally, asynchronous content can jump-start future classes or be used in other contexts.
Fostering engagement and a sense of community are key components in all forms of education but can be elusive in an online classroom environment. To build this interaction in remote classes, Dr. Quan encourages instructors to create a “social presence” with online tools, like videos of themselves talking so that students can see them as a human being. Equally important is creating opportunities for students to establish their own social presence in the online class, including through regular discussion forums and activities. Providing a space for online exchanges and critical discussion is essential for all remote classes and certainly for anthropology courses, which cover complex and multifaceted topics such as race and ethnicity.
With the transition to remote classes came several challenges. One strain has been the vast amount of work required to build and deliver a polished and engaging class, as well as the readiness to adapt as plans change in response to the pandemic. The predominance of remote schooling has also created personal and professional challenges for both students and instructors. Efforts to mitigate these issues have included streamlining courses, being flexible with class responsibilities without compromising academic standards, and continuing to be supportive and empathetic in communications with students. The Department has navigated this significant shift with great competency and thoughtfulness, and we thank Drs. Quan and Watrall for their guidance.
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