In-Person Instruction: Adaptability is Key

October 12, 2020

Jessica McGaugh, an instructor in the College of Arts & Media (CAM), is one of several faculty members who are teaching in person on campus this semester. Her course, Lighting, Grip, and Sound, is designed for students to get hands-on training with film equipment. Without the physical interaction—setting up lights, shooting scenes, etc.—the majority of the course’s curriculum would have had to change. 

While teaching in person has had its challenges, like making sure students are staying six feet apart and wearing masks at all times, McGaugh, MFA, has seen some silver linings. “Overall, COVID has taught us all not to take these in-person experiences for granted,” she said. “I told my students the first week, ‘This time together is precious. Let’s be present, experience the moment, and appreciate this opportunity.’”

Jessica McGaugh’s in-person course, Lighting, Grip, and Sound.

There are many words we could use to describe what has been an unexpected and unusual fall 2020 semester—one is adaptability. To ensure the campus community’s safety during the pandemic, CU Denver introduced four course options for the fall 2020 semester: hybrid, remote, online, and in-person. Which means faculty members have had to adapt to new methods of teaching, and students have had to adapt to new methods of learning. 

CU Denver’s four courses for the fall 2020 semester, which Chancellor Michelle Marks announced will also be in effect for spring 2021 semester.

Roughly one-quarter of courses are being taught on campus this semester. The format is designed to provide lectures, discussions, and activities in pre-scheduled meeting patterns, with the option to add an online component or record Zoom sessions at the discretion of the professor or instructor. The format is geared toward hands-on courses, such as studio and labs. Extensive safety protocols are in place.

Read More on Hybrid, Remote, and Online Courses

Mark Golkowski, PhD, professor of Electrical Engineering, is teaching Signal Processing on campus, but he is allowing students to be fully remote if they need to be. Of his 38 students, about eight to 10 show up to every lecture on campus, wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines. The remaining students can still participate, thanks to advanced technology. 

“There are a few international students who were stranded abroad due to travel restrictions and are following the class remotely,” Golkowski said. “The newly installed camera and sound system in the lecture hall enables me to do a traditional lecture on the white board that the remote students can see on Zoom, and that can be recorded.”

Golkowski has found that the remote students benefit from tuning into live lectures, where students are asking questions and having discussions in person. His teaching assistant (TA) monitors the chat in Zoom in case a remote learner types a question. In general, all of his students appreciate the lectures being recorded for later review. His model is flexible, and so far, it’s working. 

“The students who work full-time appreciate the option of being able to come in person for better engagement if possible but also being able to join remotely if they need to save time on the commute or something comes up at work,” Golkowski said. “I could see such delivery of courses becoming standard in the future.” 

Candidly speaking, Golkowski and McGaugh have run into roadblocks. Golkowski has struggled juggling the technology and making sure his presentations are effective for both Zoom and in-person viewers. Sometimes his computer glitches, but his students usually chime in and offer help. 

McGaugh’s biggest challenge has been physically distancing while still creating a space for collaboration. Her solution: split the class in half so students only come one day a week to keep the group small. The other day of the week, they work on asynchronous assignments. “We also spend a lot of time sanitizing gear,” McGaugh said.

As for the students, Golkowski and McGaugh say most are appreciative of the flexibility and the opportunity to come to campus. Some have even gotten used to the new way of learning.

“I’m personally grateful for the opportunity to get hands-on experience, and I actually don’t feel overwhelmed with the COVID stuff,” said McGaugh’s student, Ash, adding, “We are getting used to it by now.”