During Pandemic, In-House Expertise Anchors Faculty New to Teaching Online

April 24, 2020 @ 4:55 pm
By Communications Office

Kristin Garay and Johanna Creswell Báez of the School of Social Work’s Online Campus welcome instructors to a special webinar about what it is like to teach in an online (versus residential) classroom [screenshot].

The School of Social Work’s five-year-old Online Campus has been a bulwark of support to instructors who found themselves teaching online for the first time last month.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak last month, Columbia University, like most other academic institutions in the United States, took the dramatic step of switching its entire campus to online instruction in a matter of days. Professors who were accustomed to a face-to-face learning environment had no choice but to shift their discussion-based classes into an online format, in as swift a manner as possible.

For many professors, the virtual classroom represents uncharted waters, but faculty at Columbia’s School of Social Work found themselves in a safer harbor than most. Since September 2015, the School has been offering an online option for students wishing to earn an MSW degree without having to attend classes residentially. Over the period, it has developed a well of inhouse expertise on how best to offer graduate-level social work courses online.

As the School of Social Work effected its pandemic-mandated transition to virtual teaching and learning, Matthea Marquart, who directs administration for the online campus and also serves as an adjunct lecturer, shifted into high gear. She worked with colleagues Kristin Garay (MSW’16) and Johanna Creswell Báez (MSW’06), to offer a series of four live webinars containing the basics instructors would need for a successful transition to online teaching. Other webinar presenters included CSSW online instructors Dawn Shedrick, Beth Counselman Carpenter, Zuleka Henderson, Rob Hartley, Melanie Lowe Hoffman, and Eri Noguchi.

The webinar series represents a distillation of the work that Marquart and her team put into establishing their Institute on Pedagogy and Technology for Online Courses to shore up instruction for the School’s Online Campus. Now in operation for three years, the Pedagogy Institute has been recognized with awards for the rigorous training it offers to first-time online-campus instructors. According to Marquart, those who are attempting to teach online for the first time need training not only in the basics—such as how to make sure their audio works and how to share slides and other materials—but also in the principles of how student engagement works in the online space.

“There’s a stereotype of online courses as simply involving watching videos and posting in discussion forums, without really getting to know students or engaging with them in a meaningful way,” says Marquart, “and it can be a surprise that online courses can offer even more ways to interact with students than in-person courses. For example, live online classes offer webcam, mic, chat, and polling, which means that students can interact in a variety of ways throughout class, including in ways that appeal to both introverted and extroverted students.”

Although the Pedagogy Institute focuses on training instructors in Adobe Connect, the platform used for the School’s online campus, Marquart pivoted to focusing on what instructors would need for teaching in Zoom, the platform Columbia had selected for its transition to virtual classroom instruction.

While some of the contents of the webinar series has a social work focus—for instance, there are sessions on trauma-informed teaching and learning, and on inclusivity—Marquart decided to open the series to any instructor at any institution who thought they could benefit from the training.

“Our team has expertise around all sorts of dimensions of online teaching,” Marquart says. “We hoped that in this time of the pandemic, with many educators transitioning to online education very quickly, it would be a valuable service to open up the training we offered to CSSW’s instructors who were moving their residential classes online, so that any instructor could participate or view the recordings.”

In response, 776 instructors from 265 institutions around the world enrolled in the webinars, which are now archived on YouTube.

The playlist is here, and links to individual webinars, and to their slides, are as follows:

In addition, the Pedagogy Institute has made available the following one-page tip sheets, covering related contents:

Related external links: