The Spring semester brought about a sudden and unexpected change in the way we engage with our students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the unique and unprecedented circumstances, instructors in our undergraduate courses and our academic advisors were able to remain committed to providing students with the motivation and support that they needed as they continued to engage in the learning process. We took a primarily student-centered approach in all decisions regarding changes to course curricula as we adapted to the sudden shift to a remote learning environment, which from feedback we can see students greatly appreciated.

Prof. Matthew James holds virtual office hours for Foundations of Engineering students, Spring 2020 semester. Images of students are anonymized.

MJames Virtual Office Hours
Prof. Matthew James holds virtual office hours for Foundations of Engineering students, Spring 2020 semester. Images of students are anonymized.

We made the conscious and collegial decision to enable asynchronous delivery of learning experiences, supplemented by virtual office hours, being mindful that our students may not necessarily have ready and reliable access to the technology needed to engage synchronously with course activities. Instructors provided learning resources that students could access at their preferred time and pace through the Canvas learning management system, and thought of creative ways to engage with their students virtually through pre-recorded videos that share elements of the instructor's daily life and optional virtual office hours.

Watch Dr. David Gray walk students through course activities for the week while cooking pizza in a wood-fired oven 
Loading player for https://youtu.be/0BxapBV2cOg...

Instructors modified assignments and deliverables to adapt to the new environment, and focused not only on achieving the learning outcomes of the more technical aspects of the course but on students’ health and well-being as well. For example, students taking Foundations of Engineering who could no longer come together to build and fly drones were asked to develop a brochure describing their designs, supplemented by guided design walkthroughs. Some students chose to still build prototypes - and instructors provided virtual guidance and support to allow them to do that. Beyond achieving these critical outcomes, instructors facilitated ways for students to process the unusual circumstances they found themselves in by encouraging students to reflect and facilitating a creative outlet to express their perceptions and experiences, through such media as drawings, photographs, poems, songs and videos.

Turbine Joey Dias
Joey Dias, a student in one of Prof. Arefeh Mohammadi's Foundations of Engineering classes, with the final output for the course, a vertical axis wind turbine completed remotely during the Spring 2020 semester.

Our advising team likewise adapted their operations to ensure that they were able to support students’ needs. The entire advising process shifted to virtual delivery, and appointment times were modified to ensure that advisors were able to engage with as many students as possible. The team continued to guide students on concerns related to academic processes and decisions especially as new grading options were made available by the university, and creatively disseminated information on changes to academic processes and policies by developing infographics and advising packets.

Most of all, we listened to our students and their needs as we all went through a semester like no other. A common sentiment expressed by students was how much they missed the campus that they had just moved into a few months ago, but like any true Hokie they now call home. In response, Professors of Practice Matt James and David Gray took time to provide the next best thing - a virtual tour of the places they surely miss. Watch Prof. James' video below.

Loading player for https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iS6pz0pyG8&list=PL9ZfwIfYV5swOKT3g5-FgnIPSLB4OmWpi&index=12...