This past spring, in the face of a global pandemic, Iowa State faculty were given 10 days’ notice to transition their classes online. It was an unprecedented effort to maintain ISU’s high academic standards while also meeting the very real challenges of students and faculty alike. In September, two WLC professors—Megan Myers and Fabiana DePaula—were among 36 faculty the university administration recognized as going above and beyond in their efforts and received the newly created Spring 2020 Teaching Innovation Awards.
Transitioning a face-to-face course to an online platform on the fly is a challenge for anyone but doing so for three courses in two different languages and in two separate disciplines with over a hundred students requires a degree of talent that not all faculty have. For Fabiana DePaula, an associate teaching professor of Portuguese and International Studies, the challenge was welcomed. In addition to integrating the variety of tools provided within Canvas (chat and discussion rooms, quizzes and interactive assignments), she quickly became a master of WebEx and Zoom for synchronous lectures and VoiceThread for asynchronous recorded lessons (in English and in Portuguese). With VoiceThread, she created interactive videos where students comment on the lectures and on each other’s statements, thus providing a way for students to become active learners—even remotely.
Student evaluations underscore a successful teaching style: students point out DePaula’s high degree of organization and ease with technology, her flexibility with assignments and due dates, and, more than anything, her caring, thoughtful and regular personal interactions with them. Her students remarked that her classes felt like they were in person and online simultaneously.
“Unlike a physical classroom, students online are in different places from Ames, to Puerto Rico, to France, living different lives. I encouraged them to share those distinct experiences and helped them tap such experiences for their coursework. It was engaging, and the students appreciated that new experience that only virtual provided,” says DePaula.
Dr. Megan Myers transitioned to online learning first by polling students about what tools and techniques best suited their learning styles, then quickly implementing the strategies into her courses thereby giving students ownership over their learning. Utilizing a plethora of online resources available across the Spanish-speaking world with the goal of maintaining the integrity of courses taught entirely in Spanish, one student called the transition the “smoothest” of all their courses and highlighted the use of new technologies (Boomalang, WeVideo and Audacity) to engage students meaningfully in Spanish.
With respect to her community-based learning course in Perry, IA, when it was clear that working one-on-one was not possible, she set up virtual meetings with Perry city administrators and townhalls with Spanish speakers that helped ISU students engage fully in bilingual census outreach.
“We were able to continue conversations virtually and continue important conversations we were already having in different ways. I think the experience helped to teach students that there are so many ways to connect and to build bridges between communities,” says Myers.
The latter is now a project between Dr. Myers and Dr. Sarah Marketti (CELT) to design effective community projects online. Moreover, during the online period, she spoke one-on-one with each student at least a couple of times every week, and she also went the extra mile to find resources for students faced with the challenges of COVID or dealing with isolation.
Both Myers and DePaula each received a one-time $1,000 award along with the recognition.