After spending the second half of the spring semester entirely online, this week Bethel students and faculty came back in the classroom for the start of a new year. But because we’re starting this fall in the midst of an ongoing public health crisis, we’ve all had to make some adjustments that directly affect teaching and learning. To help prevent the spread of coronavirus, classrooms have been set up with desks at least six feet apart, significantly reducing each room’s capacity. Everyone’s wearing masks while they’re in the classroom. To let students who have tested positive for COVID (or been exposed to someone who has) stay in isolation or quarantine, all face-to-face classes need to be available online as well. (And some students have opted to take the entire course online.)

So how have our faculty adjusted to these unusual conditions? Here’s a survey of what it looks like to teach a few of our HIS courses this fall:

HIS320K History and the Human Environment

Well, History and the Human Environment this fall has been assigned as a split class. This means that I can only have half of my class of 35 in the classroom on any given day. When I learned this, I had a complete freak-out. I spent a ridiculous amount of time, literally plotting out on paper, how to rotate curriculum and students in order to make this work. It’s in my nature to spend a lot of time on my first idea, only to make a near last-minute decision to scrap it and go with instincts that lead to idea number two. I ultimately decided that because the classroom technology (a combo of Moodle, Zoom, Webcams, and I’m pretty sure magical fairies we can’t see) works so well, I would just conduct class as normal but basically via a live broadcast to the half of the class who is participating from offsite.

Screen shot of Prof. Poppinga’s first day of HHE on Zoom

If you look at the image you can see a bit of what class was like. I am in front of 18 students but if you look on the screen behind me, you can see my Brady Bunch Crew as I call them: the other 18 students who are participating online. What they are seeing is what I have on my overhead screen as well me teaching live. They can also read a transcript of class, which you see on the right. My amazing TA is helping me behind the scenes here. He monitors the online students and adjusts our camera as needed. Confused yet? Me too. All I know is that somehow we are all seeing and hearing each other, and the material!

I chose to do things this way because I really want us to feel like one class. We are all “together” at the same time for each session — which hopefully will help to alleviate student confusion over what they may have missed. Also, our students are really overwhelmed with logistics right now. Having to learn multiple systems for all of one’s classes is A LOT. I like that for HHE, the simple answer is, “YES!” Yes, you come (one way or another) every day. Yes, I will teach you live every day. Yes, you will see everybody every day.

Oh and, yes: this is really helpful to me, too! (Amy Poppinga)

HIS330 U.S. Business History

This first time through our new business history course, we are doing a combination of small- and large-group discussion over shared readings, lectures, and video snippets relating to materials we are reading/discussing. I have divided the students up into small groups that will work together for the semester, and we collaborate in discussion groups by way of a shared Google doc. If a student is unable to be in class, I simply record the Zoom session so that the missing student has a way to have access to the course content. The shared Google document provides a way for a missing student to participate.

I’m excited, though, about having my students work on creating documentaries for their research project. Through the magic of iMovie over the summer, I created my first documentary for another course, and so now I have a better sense of how to help them through their own research and creative process. (AnneMarie Kooistra)

HIS305G The Cold War

In some ways, Cold War adapts fairly easily to this format. Whether students are in the classroom or watching a live stream via Zoom, I can tell the generations-long, continent-spanning story of the Cold War via a mix of lecture and clips from documentaries and period films. (Though I might leave my guitar in the my office; I’m not sure I should be leading the class in singalongs of Cold War songs.) We can bring those groups together via shared docs — e.g., earlier today I had them start class by drawing on their first reading assignment to build a timeline for the origins of the Cold War in Europe. And students always complete a book review and research project on Cold War topics of their choice, a kind of asynchronous assignment that works well with any mode of instruction.

What I can’t do in a socially distanced classroom is have students put their desks together for the small group discussion and simulation activities I usually incorporate into Cold War class sessions. So every other Thursday, we’ll wrap up a unit of class by all coming together online via Zoom, with small groups using breakout rooms and shared docs to collaborate on some discussion or simulation assignment. (That includes the nuclear crisis simulation that I usually do halfway through the semester, though I still need to think through the mechanics of running multiple war games via Zoom…) Then they’ll process that activity as part of a unit-ending quiz due online the next morning. (Chris Gehrz)

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