The video begins with a woman sitting on her couch and smiling at the camera. She has posted this video to YouTube for her students at the Yale Divinity School.
Halfway through the video, she says, “If this isn’t the time for you to do your best work, then please don’t feel bad about that, because I think for all sorts of reasons, this isn’t the best time for a lot of us. And it’s okay to do just what you can do.”
The Reverend Dr. Gabrielle Thomas, a Lecturer in Early Christianity and Anglican Studies at the Yale Divinity School, joins thousands of faculty members at Yale who have moved their courses to an online format to prevent the further spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). As instructors resumed the spring semester on Monday, March 23, they found creative ways to reconnect with students via Zoom, Canvas, YouTube, email, and social media. The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning consulted with more than 1,000 Yale instructors to help them prepare for the remainder of the term.
“These pressures are distinct because, to a certain extent, some agency has been lost,” said Thomas, when asked about balancing the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic with her role as a faculty member. “That said, I love teaching, I’m passionate about my research, and these are good things to spend time on.”
She recently relocated from Britain to the United States to teach at the Divinity School. Her seminar courses, “Evil in Early Christianity” and “Gregory Nazianzen: Theology, Questions, and Retrieval,” meet once per week for 110 minutes each.
“Thankfully, the class has had some time together in previous weeks, and they work very well as a group,” said Thomas. “We’ve already tackled some reasonably contentious questions, so we’ll continue to do this online. Each class will have two very short presentations from students, which will incorporate discussion questions. I’ll use the ‘break out’ so that the students have the chance to speak away from the whole group as well as within the seminar.”
Thomas attended a virtual workshop, “Teaching Online with Canvas and Zoom,” hosted by the Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning last week. Associate Director of Educational Technology Timberley Barber-Marini and Associate Director of Educational Technology and Media Brian Pauze led the workshop multiple times to provide an opportunity for faculty to familiarize themselves with tools that will help them continue teaching for the rest of the semester.
Pauze explained that Zoom, a video conferencing software licensed by the University, allows faculty members to create virtual break out rooms. The feature mirrors small group discussion opportunities that one might use while teaching an in-person class.
“I’m amazed by how eager our community is to learn. Faculty and teaching fellows have asked insightful and creative questions about how they can transition their classes and replicate the environments they have created in-person into an online setting,” said Pauze, one of the “Zoom Gurus” at the Poorvu Center.
“I went from trepidation to feeling confident about tackling a class, to the extent that the students do more than simply survive our session together,” said Thomas. “Of course, we’ll all need practice, and I’ll want to keep improving the class experience, but I know enough to begin confidently.”
The Poorvu Center and support staff at each of the professional schools have created handouts, webpages, and video tutorials to help faculty navigate the transition. The Academic Continuity website has a page dedicated to identifying the resources available around Yale for faculty, teaching fellows, and students.
“The [Poorvu Center workshop] perfectly complemented the excellent training we received from the IT department at the School of Management, and left me feeling ready for online teaching – and indeed the first day of class went without a hitch,” said Dr. Nicholas C. Barberis, Stephen and Camille Schramm Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at the Yale School of Management.
Barberis teaches “Behavioral Finance” this semester, a course that focuses on the psychology of financial markets. Toward the end of the semester, Barberis will include a session on the behavioral finance aspects of the pandemic, but he wants to ensure students understand the research and lessons learned from the last 30 years.
“What we’re going through is indisputably a disaster – but one silver lining is that it’s forcing us to adapt, to innovate, and to work together in ways that will benefit us and society as a whole well after the crisis is over,” said Barberis. “To have a whole community of leading researchers become adept in online teaching – that is surely a good thing that could have a long-lasting impact.”
Yale faculty, teaching fellows, and administrators have spent countless hours trying to determine the logistics of an unprecedented situation. Yale Information Technology Services, the University Library, and the Poorvu Center have collaborated on many plans and solutions to support a remote, diverse community of students and instructors.
“I’ve witnessed my colleagues’ ingenuity as they move workshops online, find ways to connect students with peer tutors, consult with faculty members on assessments, and address concerns surrounding equity and inclusion,” said Barber-Marini, one of the Poorvu Center’s “Canvas Gurus.” “To think that a 319-year-old institution has shifted the way it teaches and disseminates information in just two weeks, that is incredible. We’re all trying our best to ensure our students, who have sacrificed so much this semester, have an opportunity to learn.”
The Poorvu Center will continue to support students and instructors throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The center has scheduled ongoing virtual workshops and has already uploaded more than 20 video tutorials to its YouTube channel. As faculty begin to teach online, they can find resources or ask questions on the Academic Continuity website.
“Of course, there will be some changes – I have to be more energetic to keep students’ attention in an online class, and I have to figure out what to do now that I don’t have a blackboard – but again, the amazing thing is that your online course can be just as intense, participative, and packed with information as your in-person course,” said Barberis.
To learn more about the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit the University COVID-19 website.