Online Teaching

By Kelly Delevan, Information Literacy Librarian

Kelly Delevan

In the spring of 2020 Syracuse University sent students home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and our semester was interrupted in a myriad of ways. For the Libraries, that meant closing our doors, suspending our collection efforts, and putting in-person instruction on hold while shifting to remote-only instruction. As a librarian who does a fair amount of in-person teaching, this shift was a challenge, to say the least. However, we adapted and learned some lessons along the way.

My Teaching Style

I am an extrovert; my teaching style reflects this. I am animated when I talk, I move around the classroom, and I like to engage directly with students through humor and enthusiasm. I’m not a fan of slide shows; I’ll use them when necessary, but I prefer to do live demonstrations of library resources. For me, the surprise of searching in a database on the fly with students provides an authentic search process; sometimes I fail, sometimes links don’t work. I see this as an opportunity to reiterate to students the “messy” nature of research. This might not work for all instructors, but it works for me. Finally, I LOVE active learning. I always build an activity or two into my lessons. Usually students work individually on a worksheet, or they work in groups to do a research activity, and I roam the classroom providing input as needed.

So, when I had to transition my teaching to a fully remote mode, many aspects of my teaching style were impacted. Gone was the ability to move around the room and chat with students during class time. All the gesturing and pointing to important things looked really silly on screen – I actually caught myself pointing to things on my screen that were completely out of view of my camera! While live demonstrations were fairly similar in an online classroom, my ability to connect the “messy” parts of research sometimes looked more like technological glitches. And active learning was entirely different – it required the most adaptation and patience of all.

Changes Made

While I was unable to move around in an online classroom, I was able to continue to be expressive in smaller ways. Smiling, nodding, and looking directly into the camera went along way in connecting me to the students. The biggest change I made was how I conducted my active learning in the online classroom. I did most of my teaching in Zoom, which allowed breakout rooms where I could assign students into groups to work on activities. I practiced setting up and transitioning between breakout rooms all summer with my colleagues, so I felt really comfortable in that environment. As for activities within the breakout rooms, I relied heavily on google docs to create worksheets and forms that students could edit together, which was fairly similar to filling out a paper worksheet in a traditional classroom.

IL Scholars to the Rescue!

The Information Literacy (IL) Scholars program at SU Libraries employs eight graduate Library Science students this year. They work 10 hours weekly with me to support the Libraries’ instructional efforts, while gaining valuable experience. When we transitioned to online teaching, the IL Scholars were available to serve as teaching assistants to anyone teaching an online instruction session. I had an IL Scholar (or two!) with me in most of my classes and their presence was game changing as they were able to do things like admit students into the rooms, take attendance, and monitor the chat window, which allowed me to stay focused on maintaining a positive presence in the room. I also relied heavily on the IL Scholars to reinforce many of the concepts I was teaching by having them lead students through database demonstrations and keyword brainstorming sessions. When I used breakout rooms, it was wonderful to have an IL Scholar roaming through the rooms with me, so students got more personal attention.

Less Content, More Compassion

Despite all the adjustments I made to my teaching style, and the wonderful help I had, it seemed like there was never really enough time to teach everything in my lesson plan. This is not uncommon for librarians – we are always trying to fit what feels like a semester’s worth of content into one 50 to 75-minute class session. Classroom interactions move slower online. Folks have to mute and unmute, sometimes the audio or the video is bad, screen sharing takes time, etc.  Further, I found myself spending time in each class not talking about the library. Honestly, I think that’s okay. In the midst of a global pandemic, just talking with students, asking them how they were coping, and acknowledging their concerns was necessary pedagogy. In every class I taught, it was extremely important to me that I made it clear that our mental and physical well-being came first.  If we weren’t able to cover all of the library related content, the students and their faculty understood. We as librarians are really great at creating supplemental resources like research guides and tutorials that can be viewed outside of class. If something wasn’t addressed in class, I sent the professor a link to a helpful resource later, and of course, the Libraries offer an amazing array of reference services that I always recommended.

Moving Forward

I really hope that I can return to the physical classroom soon. As much as I have worked to adapt my teaching to the virtual classroom, I still find my own teaching style works best in person. Until that day comes I’ll continue to try and find ways to make the online classroom one where we can learn from each other, and laugh a lot along the way.

screen shot of computer with image of Kelly Delevan in corner

Architecture Facing the New Reality: What Can We Learn?

Barbara Opar, Librarian for Architecture, Syracuse University Libraries

The COVID 19 pandemic has changed our lives forever. We read every day about its impact on our health, the economy and how we function in the “new reality.” Are there takeaways for architects? David Benjamin, who is an associate professor at Columbia University reminds us “Pandemics are a spatial problem”. If so, what can we learn from what is being published in the literature?  How are architects reacting to this crisis?

            Perhaps not surprisingly what we are reading to date on this topic is mostly coming from blogs produced by professional organizations and/or large firms. ArchDaily is a good source for examples of specific projects undertaken to mitigate the spread of the virus. The site even has a search box to help you locate articles by topic. Scholarly periodical literature will follow. But given the turnaround time even for journal articles, we will not be seeing much in print in the core literature until early 2021. At that point, the information available will be different— evaluative, focusing on research and less “seat of the pants” or seeking of immediate solutions.

            But these blogs address the current state of affairs and can help students, faculty and practicing architects learn how to adapt projects to changed expectations by identifying the kinds of research needed, what is already being done and even possible solutions. A wayfinding firm prepared an extensive report on social distancing. Blogs can come from reliable sources like the American Institute of Architects which has even published a guide to making polling places safer.

            As would be expected, architects and firms are still mostly in a reactive mode. But many are planning for immediate as well as sustained changes to building types. The MASS Design Group has a ten- year history of responding to healthcare crises. They have prepared a document which addresses this latest one. Understandably, hospital redesign and/or emergency medical facilities are receiving attention during the pandemic.

But other types of projects like housing remain viable. The housing market understandably has needs at both ends- affordable housing as well as suburban homes. The Brookings Institute report informs us about the issues as well as responses. As even more Americans leave dense cities for suburbia, residential construction and renovation work is increasing. Adapting buildings for changes in lifestyles includes improving ventilation, increasing natural light, and expanding access to the outdoors. In addition to the more technical requirements, architects are reflecting on living conditions post-pandemic. Projects can also be as specific as improving study spaces in the home.

More information on mitigating the effects of the pandemic is becoming available each day. But for students and faculty here, once a specific pandemic related issue has been identified, there are already substantial architecture resources at the Libraries to provide guidance on most every topic being identified as integral to improving lives through better buildings and cities. For instance, here is a sampling of our print and online resources on natural ventilation include:   

The architecture of natural cooling

Climateskin : building-skin concepts that can do more with less energy

Designing spaces for natural ventilation : an architect’s guide

Naturally ventilated buildings : buildings for the senses, economy and society

Natural ventilation in buildings : a design handbook

Natural ventilation of buildings : theory, measurement and design

There is much to learn from what already exists in our collections.

            As some architects note, architecture will not be the solution to the pandemic. But architects can learn from it and improve all our futures through thoughtful solutions to specific issues. The Washington Post offers an interesting perspective on how architects can contribute,  what is not viable and what future architectural works will look like post pandemic.