Faculty, not just students, are learning too

By Tiffany Moore
Transcript Correspondent

During these uncertain times when everyone is staying apart from one another because of COVID-19, Ohio Wesleyan’s faculty and staff may be closer than they’ve ever been.

After OWU President Rock Jones last month canceled in-person classes in favor of remote teaching for the rest of the semester, the Information Services department and other staff had less than two weeks to train faculty to readjust, using digital tools like Blackboard, Zoom and other applications.

Many faculty found themselves entering unfamiliar territory, but they’ve been getting plenty of help. OWU set upworkshops on March 16 and 17, organized by Dale Brugh, associate provost for institutional effectiveness, Lynda Hall, associate dean for academic performance, Brian Rellinger, associate provost for academic support and others.

Ashley Biser, usually holding classes as an associate professor of politics and government, is now also leading online training for professors learning how to teach remotely.

As a way to keep track of faculty needs, the provost’s office created a survey. Biser said she’s been working with the provost to keep faculty and students informed. She primarily works behind the scenes anticipating problems and finding solutions.

Biser said while her work was not difficult, it was still a lot to teach.  Some professors teach online summer courses and have been a great resource for others who are less familiar with the technology, she said.

“In general, faculty had to learn a tremendous amount about new tools in an extremely short period of time,” Biser said. “The hardest part is that we miss our students.  Faculty teach at a small liberal arts college like OWU because they care about students and want to interact with them.”

Another challenge Biser faced was understanding what some faculty needed to get comfortable with remote teaching.

“Some needed assistance thinking about how to adapt their pedagogical goals to remote instruction,” she said. “Others needed more technical help in terms of how to work Blackboard Collaborate and other online tools.”

For some, teaching these tools is familiar territory.

David Soliday, an instructional technologist in OWU’s Information Services office, said that is his job under normal times.

“I really didn’t have to do much because I’ve been training faculty on how to use Blackboard for years,” Soliday said.

One area of concern has been the UC160 course in which first-year students plot their four-year connections path. But the instructor’s Facebook group was expanded to all faculty members so they can assist one another with any problems, and Soliday was added to the group to answer additional questions, he said.

Initially, Soliday said he fielded many questions, but those began to slow down once classes started.

“The hardest part is that we miss our students.  Faculty teach at a small liberal arts college like OWU because they care about students and want to interact with them.” – Ashley Biser, associate professor of politics and government

Keeping stress as low as possible is another important factor, said Joseph Peterson, OWU’s systems technician.

Everyone is trying to collaborate during the switch to remote-learning, although a few professors have been a little frustrated at times, he said.

“Everybody has really been pitching in trying not to overwhelm us and we’re not trying to throw too much at them at one time,” Peterson said.

During a normal semester, Peterson said he works with hardware on campus requiring manual labor.

“With COVID-19, we’re trying to stay off-campus as much as we can. It’s a strange thing to have somebody whose job primarily consists of physically going to do things,” Peterson said.

He has been using Google Remote Desktop, which allows him to remotely enter a professor’s computer, with their permission, and fix any issues.

One of his more recent challenges was to help a staff member working from home set up her Virtual Private Network.

“We had to try three different ways to do it,” Peterson said, “She didn’t even have Wi-Fi at her home until a week and a half ago, so we were walking her through all that stuff.”

In a typical work day now, Peterson said he takes turns with co-worker Jason Cox managing the help desk phone. They use a program called Zendesk, which creates tickets for any request made from faculty, staff, even students.

“My typical day is catching up on emails and all the work tickets that we have,” Peterson said.

“For the most part, our staff and faculty have been very understanding how short-staffed our department has been and we recognize how stressful this is to them.”

Learning to teach remotely isn’t the only stress.

Last week, Biser sent an email to faculty to create a contingency plan in case they or someone in their family fell ill and they could not teach.

Some reacted with sadness and frustration, but others got it, Biser said.

“Faculty, too, are juggling a lot, including responsibilities to their families and the increased workload and strangeness of teaching remotely,” Biser said. “Our whole OWU community is grappling with this question of how to care for each other during difficult times.”

Students challenged in new at-home class environments

Caitlin Jefferson and Connor Severino
Transcript correspondents

As Ohio Wesleyan students wrestle with the new paradigm of remote learning after classes were canceled, some are doing well while others struggle with the tasks, getting work done on time and even remembering assignments.

More than 1,300 OWU students were ordered home last month to prevent infection from the highly contagious, rapidly spreading worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty and students alike scrambled to reconfigure and readjust to teaching and learning remotely.

It’s a work in progress.

Cole Hatcher, director of OWU’s Media and Community Relations, said the adjustments seem to be going well, for the most part. One of the most difficult tasks was working out logistics for international students.  About 50 students remain on campus, the administration has said.

“We just want to make sure everyone feels included and comfortable amidst everything going on,” Hatcher said. To help faculty, students and staff, OWU’s Office of Information Services on Thursday posted instructions on OWU Daily to download free Adobe products.

Still, while some work-at-home students do feel comfortable, others aren’t feeling it yet.

Freshman Eliza Richardson has been finding it difficult to focus on schoolwork while being home in Lakewood, Ohio during these uncertain times.

“It is hard to stay on top of my work and make my own schedule,” Richardson said. “I get distracted at home and I do not have as much structure here as I do at school.”

Two of Richardson’s four classes are live video sessions and the other two are pre-recorded, which makes it difficult for her to stay on task, she said.

“My biggest challenge has been getting all my work done on time and not forgetting an assignment, which happened with my chemistry homework,” Richardson said.

Richardson said she has stayed positive by painting, exercising, playing games and staying off of her phone as much as possible. She said she has also been enjoying this extra time with her family.

Sophomore Molly Mazabras, at home in New Canaan, Connecticut, mingles with family daily now too, another new paradigm for OWU students who would normally be on campus now. She said she puts the family on notice when she has school work to get after.

Her brothers start school early in the morning, so Mazabras said she tells her family when she has class or schoolwork so they don’t disturb her.

“I have my own room to do my work and my three younger brothers have their own spaces too,” Mazabras said. “My biggest challenge has been just learning material, especially for my stats class because I have to teach myself, which is really hard.”

She said her professors have been good at communicating, which has helped her stay on track in her classes.

“Keeping myself busy with schoolwork, spending lots of time with family and just knowing that eventually this will end have been some ways that I have tried to stay positive,” Mazabras said. “I don’t think remote learning has been too bad so far.”

Senior Peter Mihok, of New Town, Connecticut, said studying in the home work space has been a struggle along with dealing with a younger sibling.

“For me it is not the material I have to focus on, rather the issue is the space I have at home  which is inadequate to study the complex courses OWU offers,” Mihok said. “I never had good results studying in my room. My younger brother is 13, so he’s kind of a distraction as he’s bouncing off the walls.”

“It will be good to look back and see how students are able to change in rapid circumstances and adapt to sudden life alterations,” – Martha Wilson, part-time journalism instructor

Senior Alysa Grindlinger, home in Falmouth, Maine, said one thing she is not doing is sleeping in.

“I spend the time I would normally be in class studying or completing homework. I do this on weekends, as well,” she said.

On the other hand, Grindlinger does find time to talk to family and friends on FaceTime or Skype and playing board games with her parents. She said she’s also enrolled in a 30-day yoga challenge on her favorite YouTube Channel.

“I’m taking my dog on long walks to get out of the house, while maintaining social distancing,” she said. “I’m learning new recipes so that I am cooking in the time I would otherwise spend snacking.”

As for the remote learning part, she said she is having mixed results with professors from her classes, including having to wade through multi-page emails at times.

“Some teachers have a knack for this kind of teaching, others clearly do not,” she said. “Some professors seem to be having difficulty parting with the format of traditional classes and exams. As such, assignments or exams might seem unnecessarily overcomplicated from a student’s point of view.”

Faculty are learning too and doing what they can to alleviate student challenges and readjust course requirements, like Kyle McDaniel, an assistant communication professor.

“From a faculty perspective, I have made several attempts to ensure that students have enough time to complete assignments,” McDaniel said.

Eventually the whole state of affairs for OWU students caused by the virus will be interesting from an historical perspective, said Martha Wilson, a part-time journalism instructor.

“It will be good to look back and see how students are able to change in rapid circumstances and adapt to sudden life alterations,” Wilson said.

Without stages or studios, students and professors grapple to adjust

Katie Cantrell and Meg Edwards
Transcript correspondents

Remote teaching may work well for some disciplines at Ohio Wesleyan, but some of its limitations and the complete closing of campus has thrown some programs into turmoil.

Much of the academic logistics in programs like fine arts, music and theater have been flipped upside down. Furthermore, students participating in travel learning courses, theory-to-practice grant projects and small grant projects were told to pack up and leave their programs early.

Meanwhile, faculty and staff have been helping students rescheduled projects planned for May and June, which were canceled.

“Luckily, we have been able to get full refunds, no-fee cancellations or no-cost transfers on bookings,” said Darrel Albon, OWU’s director of international and off-campus programs.

“Our New York Arts Program had students not only from OWU, but also from other colleges and universities … returned home and (we) have made arrangements with their internship sponsors and NYAP faculty to complete their seminar and research assignments and complete work on their internships.”

OWU’s fine arts programs and its students are also struggling to fashion a pathway on the road to remote teaching when these disciplines normally require hands-on projects and in-person showcases.

The senior art show, which exhibits work from all Ohio Wesleyan fine arts seniors, is one of many on-campus events and activities being reconfigured in the wake of the COVID-19 campus closures.

The museum staff and the members of the fine arts department have been collaborating to try and figure out a solution that will allow seniors within the major to have their year-end required exhibit, said Erin Fletcher, the director of the Ross Museum, who is working with Jim Krehbiel, a professor of fine arts.

“Jim and I have been in close contact since returning from break,” she said. “I liaise with the museum staff and Jim liaises with the fine arts faculty,” she said. “We have all been working diligently to find a way to represent senior work.”

Faculty and staff have proposed multiple solutions, such as rescheduling or other more creative options, but they’re still figuring out how this exhibit will be done this year. Seniors will be the first to know once they have everything figured out, Fletcher said.

One problem is deciding how to showcase student’s artwork without an audience because people can’t go to the museum when the show is typically held.

The museum currently has a virtual 3-D tour of the faculty exhibit because it was set up before the facility was closed to the public and the staff was required to leave campus, Fletcher said.

“We do these 3-D tours from time to time for special exhibits. We have not done them for all exhibits in the past due to the expense,” Fletcher said.

Meanwhile, student artists struggle with completing their work in familiar, but not academic, surroundings.

Senior Rory Gleeson was planning to take a gap year to continue building her painting and drawing portfolio for graduate school applications when she learned OWU was closing. She since has moved back to her parents’ home, in New Plymouth, Ohio and spent days clearing out an old computer room to serve as a make-shift studio.

“The space is small, cold and has terrible lighting and I don’t have easels at my house to hold large work, so mostly I’ve just had to sit uncomfortably on the floor in order to work,” she said in a phone interview.

Gleeson said she hopes students are refunded for their studio fees, because “my home setup just really does not compare.”

Gleeson said the process of framing pieces and preparing them for display in Edgar Hall would take multiple days. She is worried she will not be able to travel to Delaware and stay in a hotel for the show if it is rescheduled.

“I feel like that, combined with the ongoing pandemic, is going to delay just generally getting on with my life after graduation,” she said.

Professors are feeling their students’ pain.

Kristina Bogdanov, an associate professor of fine arts, said she is leaning toward a flexible schedule online to better accommodate the needs of all students and is extending office hours so all students, especially those struggling with remote learning, can easily ask for help.

Bogdanov teaches three levels of drawing courses and three levels of ceramics, but remote teaching will be especially hard with ceramics. It is a three dimensional art requiring clay, a place to work with the clay and a place to dry and fire the clay.

For seniors, it’s rough because they were supposed to start working on finishing their work for the required-for-graduation senior showcase.

“It’s sad for the seniors, not having time to have that moment of their actual senior exhibition,” Bogdanov said. “It will happen, but that definitely can never be replaced online as reality is with the museum and reception and so forth.”

Another casualty to the pandemic – the March upper-level class trip for a national conference for ceramics art and education in Richmond, Virginia.

This rapidly changing situation has also affected the Department of Theatre and Dance, which has lost all audiences for the near future. The spring musical was to be “The Secret Garden” by Marsha Norman, based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hogsdon Burnett. It has been canceled.

Glen Vanderbilt, a professor in the department and director of the musical, said he polled students about performing at the start of fall semester, doing what they had already worked on. Many expressed interest, but Vanderbilt said the actors in several feature roles would need to be recast, which proved “too big of a mountain to climb over.”

“I know the students were very low when the closure ramped up to full time,” he said in an email.

Theater classes are using “Meet,” online meeting software offered by Google Hangouts. Vanderbilt said one big problem is students failing to respond to email, making it difficult to evaluate work.

Theatre majors, like seniors Sarah Gielink and Monty Almoro, are experiencing some of the same headaches as their fine arts peers.

Both planned to present their senior project this spring, a requirement for all graduating theater majors.

Gielink and Almoro had written their own adaptation in Spanish of the 17th century Spanish comedy “Life is a Dream,” which was the culmination of years of work by ten students and faculty.  They had a theory-to-practice grant and had begun rehearsals, but will finish the year by writing a reflection on their experiences.

“The first announcement alone hit hard, when events were canceled through March 29,” Gielink said. “Then the next day came the cancelations through April 5, which meant we lost Terpsicorps too, and then the day after that the whole semester. I just remember feeling like nothing was left.” Terpsicorps is a student led dance performance with various styles and themes

Gielink said now that she has had time to process, the loss of the productions has become another part of “the new normal.”

“I know we’re both proud of the work we’ve done and our whole team has had our backs the entire time,” she said.“Looking back, I’m so glad that we got to work together and come this far.”

The pandemic and all it has created impacted students both on campus and those in off-campus learning environments.

Albon, director of those programs, said everyone in his department has been working diligently.

The department has been helping students, scattered around the globe, to return home while ensuring their immigration records and visas are in order.  All the students that had been approved for roughly a dozen different off-campus credit programs have now returned home and are participating in remote learning like the rest of the OWU student body.

Albon’s office has also been planning and preparing for fall 2020 programs.

“We have not heard a word from any of our international or domestic partner institutions and programs about fall program changes or cancellations, but this situation is still developing,” he said. “Our partners are communicating with us regularly and we are communicating with them too, (which includes) our OWU folks in New York city at the NYAP likewise.”

After rocky start, students on near-empty campus labor to acclimate to strange new college lifestyle

Azmeh Talha

Caitlin Jefferson
Transcript Correspondent


Ohio Wesleyan University, a bustling campus abuzz with college students just a few weeks ago, has pivoted into a near ghost town.

Gone are more than 1,300 enrollees, most of whom have returned home for the remainder of the semester due to the rapidly spreading, highly contagious novel coronavirus.  Only about 50 mostly international students remain, said OWU President Rock Jones.

Jones, in a campus-wide email sent Wednesday, said recent events had created an overwhelming sea change for business as usual.

“We have found ourselves in the midst of a new normal none of us imagined and without a definite end date,” he wrote. “In all my years of higher education, nothing else has so profoundly transformed our institutions and shaken our students experience or the work that (faculty and staff) do.”

At this point, the administration is unsure how long the students living on campus now will remain. Jones said that issue has not been discussed, but will be in the future. He referred additional questions to Brian Emerick, director of Residential Life, who could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, students do their best to carry on in this new and abnormal campus lifestyle.

Sophomore Joy Buraima, from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, said she was given permission to stay until the end of the semester. She is living in the LA CASA Small Living Unit.

“Even if I wanted to go home, I could not as the borders have been closed. It would have been so inconvenient too, as I am meant to be here in the states during the summer for a program,” Buraima said.

Buraima, who said she is trying to stay positive through the pandemic and all the changes it has caused, thinks OWU has done a good job keeping students on campus informed.

“They’ve all expressed their willingness to make things work regardless and have all offered a great deal of support and flexibility,” she said.

At times, Buraima said she has experienced information overload, yet she is still curious about what happens when the semester ends.

“It’s fairly difficult to not get flooded by the plethora of information out there concerning this and other matters of emergency,” she said. “I would like to hear from (OWU) how this will affect other upcoming events meant to be held in the summer. I do understand, though, that nobody has any fixed answers due to the ever-changing nature of this situation.”

Humor has helped her cope with this, at times, frightening situation and she said most of her friends are doing their best to follow the guidelines set by the university.  She’s also thankful for the unwavering support of her parents, who live across the globe.

“I think I’m feeling better every day. It was very rough at first but I’m confident that we can make things work, somehow. It’s all we can do anyway,” Buraima said.

Sophomore Mukami Mboche, from Kenya, said her parents, while far away, are still a big help in keeping her worries in check.

“My parents keep me updated on what is going on at home,” she said. “They help me by keeping me calm about the whole situation and reassuring me that everything will be fine both at home and here as well.”

Mboche is living in Hayes Hall through June, when she will go back to Nairobi, but she worries about travel bans that may still be in place.

“I am extremely nervous … Kenya has set a travel ban,” she said “But I am hopeful that by July this virus will be gone or going and the ban will hopefully be lifted.”

As a fine arts major, remote learning has been a challenge, especially for classes like studio art. But her professors have helped, she said.

“It will challenge me to stay focused on schoolwork and to not get distracted by the comfort of my room and bed,” Mboche said.

Self-isolation is getting to her, but Mboche said she and her friends are taking the pandemic seriously by implementing social distancing.

“We implement social distancing heavily, and only make contact a few times for meals … we stay separated just as a precaution,” she said.

Not all on-campus students are from foreign lands. Senior Ruby Scheckelhoff, from Columbus, has remained and is living in Smith Hall because a family member at home has a compromised immune system.

A big stress for Scheckelhoff is remote learning. She said she feels as though her classwork has been tripled and she has no time on the weekend to prepare for work during the school week.

“This has been incredibly detrimental to my learning to have so much work,” she said. “Professors do not seem to care about a weekend anymore either.”

On top of being overwhelmed with this new learning style, Scheckelhoff has been coping with not being able to finish out her senior year the way she would have liked.

“I definitely took time to be selfishly angry about leaving as a senior,” Scheckelhoff said. “There were people I never had the chance to say goodbye to that I probably won’t see again.”

She said she is following social distancing guidelines and is finding things beside school work to keep her busy while staying in her room.

“I have expanded into the other half of my room and gave myself an office space for school, then I have a room for sleeping and video games, among other things,” she said.

Restricted dining hours in Bishop Café have been an irritating inconvenience, too, but OWU did put an extra $200 into all student’s dining dollars through the end of the semester, she said.

Scheckelhoff tries to find ways to stay active and not be repetitive each day, although it is difficult because of so little human interaction.

“Even being an introvert, it is hard to not see other people,” Scheckelhoff said. “When I open my window, I see no one and it feels dystopian.”

Sophomore Astrid Koek, from the Netherlands, has also struggled at times, but also realizes she is not alone.

“I have good days and bad days and honestly I think I am in no place to complain,” Koek said. “My situation is interesting, but it is no worse or more sad than anyone else’s.”

One of Koek’s Delta Delta Delta sorority sisters let her live at her house until she returns home again. She said she keeps in touch with her family through FaceTime every day.

“I feel like we are creating a strong bond from this situation and my parents are teaching me to see the good in every situation, which I am very grateful for,” Koek said. “I love being home, but I really like being here.”

Friends helped Koek move to the house where she now lives and OWU provided all international students with three boxes and free storage. She misses her people but also feels lucky.

“Seeing all my friends at home with their families made me miss mine more, but I did not want to complain because I am in a privileged situation just being here,” she said. “Being alone right now is somewhat scary, but it also makes me realize how very lucky I am to have certain people in my life and for all the friendliness I have received here.”