Faculty Optimize Virtual Classroom Experience for Fall Courses
Last spring, when the coronavirus prompted a sudden switch to online learning, Georgetown McDonough turned to a team of professors with experience teaching in the school’s online Master of Science in Finance and hybrid Flex MBA programs to help prepare faculty for spring and summer virtual classes. From that, the idea of creating an Online Pedagogy Team (OPT) to prepare for the fall semester quickly took shape.
“We started by recording some videos about how professors may want to set up their offices, how to use Zoom and breakout rooms, and eventually we were hosting faculty town halls to talk about our experience in our online and blended programs,” said Lee Pinkowitz, an associate professor of finance who leads the OPT.
Once the OPT was formed, it expanded to include a mix of faculty with experience in technology-enhanced learning or who had never taught online but were eager to learn, as well as staff with experience in ed-tech. As the name suggests, it was designed as a resource the faculty could “opt” to turn to for assistance in planning for the fall.
With so much information available for faculty about online teaching and learning, the OPT sought to distill the right balance of information to meet the specific needs of McDonough’s faculty and students. In addition to meeting with faculty, they created a Canvas site that curated the best information and communicated it as very specific FAQs and “how-to” advice for professors. The result, Pinkowitz says, is a more thoughtful and innovative classroom experience for students than what they may have experienced in the spring — whether they were already at Georgetown or completing their senior year of high school.
“Spring was not online — it was ‘emergency remote’ because an online or hybrid course is not just faculty members standing in front of a webcam delivering a course as they would have in the school’s Hariri Building,” Pinkowitz said, adding that most faculty had about 72 hours to adjust their courses between in-person and online where the courses he teaches for MSF or Flex MBA were designed over many months.
He believes students can expect a different experience in the fall now that faculty have had time to explore how to set up their home teaching environments, how to re-think the delivery of their courses in a virtual environment, and how to adjust assessments for online courses. The OPT also encouraged professors to explore how a technology-enhanced environment presents new opportunities that are not possible in a face-to-face environment.
For example, while carrying on multiple conversations in a face-to-face classroom would be distracting, using the chat tool allows students to participate in a new way by engaging in discussions with one another and with the instructor. Pinkowitz also has been experimenting with shared documents, such as using Google Docs to collect information from students or to encourage collaborative note-taking.
In a summer course, Pinkowitz reached out to Georgetown’s global alumni network to incorporate informal alumni “coffee chats” into his office hours, hosting a total of 25 graduates for 30-minute conversations with his students about their personal and professional development throughout the six-week term.
“These alumni would not have been able to travel to D.C. to sit in my office for an hour in case a student showed up, but asking them to Zoom with us for 30 minutes was feasible,” he said. “A lot of what we’ve been trying to do is help our colleagues translate what works face-to-face to online and also shine a light on some of these other things that they may not know about.”
While the OPT has been focused on classroom teaching, Pinkowitz is hopeful that the entire community can explore ways to deliver on Georgetown’s commitment to cura personalis — or in this case cura virtualis — this fall. He says it will require faculty, staff, and students to think outside the box in how they engage with one another.
Pinkowitz also believes that lessons drawn from technology-enhanced learning in the short-term will have long-term implications for how Georgetown delivers its academic mission and prepares students for success in a world that is rapidly embracing technology in new ways.
The OPT includes:
- Daniela Brancaforte, senior assistant dean and director of strategic initiatives and interdisciplinary programs, Undergraduate Program
- Jason Brennan, Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Professor
- Timothy Catlett, associate director of technology and learning development
- Sudipta Dasmohapatra, academic director for the Master of Science in Business Analytics Program and professor of the practice
- Dale Koch, associate director of program development
- Allison Koester, Saleh Romeih Associate Professor
- Bonnie Montano, teaching professor
- Michael O’Leary, senior associate dean for executive education and teaching professor
- Reining Petacchi, Dottie and Tim Hobin Associate Professor
- Lee Pinkowitz, associate professor
- Luc Wathieu, professor