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How our faculty adapted to COVID-19in the classroom

University President Michael V. Drake addressed the university and announced on March 9, 2020, that all Ohio State students would not be coming back to campus from their Spring Break until March 30 due to COVID-19.

One week later, the situation became even more complicated with the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

The professors and instructors in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) needed to find a way to translate high-level material to a format that it has not commonly been used in the realm of engineering higher education: online instruction.

Even with these incredible challenges, the faculty at MAE were able to overcome these incredible challenges, and finish the semester with hard work, ingenuity, some fun and a little bit of leniency all while learning a lot themselves.

Richard VasquesRichard Vasques“My first concern was about the students,” Richard Vasques, an assistant professor in MAE, said. “The graduate course I was teaching is very dense, and it would be very easy for the material to become overwhelming and the students to feel overburdened by the shift in teaching and expectations.”

For other professors who had taught online before like, MAE assistant professor of practice Clarissa Belloni, the aspect of teaching virtually wasn’t as much of a worry. Her main concern was testing her students on the material.

Overall, the hardest part of the transition for both Belloni and Vasques was recording the lesson and getting it online to their students excluding the expected technical hiccups.

“I would do recorded videos plus live sessions where we would recap the material. At the start of these live sessions students would not turn on their video and it felt really weird talking into the void,” Belloni said. “I am used to moving around during classes, so sitting at a computer rather than standing and moving, was unfamiliar.”

To overcome these challenges, Vasques changed his goals for the class and strived to be clear and transparent so that his students could excel even with the trying circumstances.

With the experience she already had teaching online, Belloni compared the teaching methods she knew worked virtually to those that didn’t reach the desired outcomes. She also credits the support that was given to her by the Engineering Technical Services as well as the department’s tool-sharing portal, where faculty could share their best skills and practices.

Through these hardships, there was some unexpected good that arose as well as a lot of lessons that were learned.

Clarissa BelloniClarissa Belloni

For Belloni, more questions were asked through the chat function than in her normal classes. She also held a short period at the start of each class to share the lockdown experience and hobbies with her students.

“I actually learned quite a bit more about my students,” Belloni said. “A few students shared and it was great getting to know their interests. I think I will need to somehow incorporate this into in-person classes too, even though I typically teach large sections of 60+ students.”

Vasques found that it was easier to use class time as a question and answer and discussion period separate from the recorded lectures his students could watch. The questions were fun academic based questions, and he believed made his students ask more questions.

Prioritizing the important things and letting go of the smaller issues was also an important lesson that Vasques learned.

To have a little fun, Belloni also incorporated some class challenges to earn extra credit points. Her lectures were issued a school spirit challenge to get the whole class in OSU colors, as well as a bring your pet, parents or roommate to class day.

“This just lightened the mood a little, meant the students turned on their video, and fostered a bit more of a communal feeling, since every student in the class would obtain the point,” she said.

Through all of the hardship of a global pandemic, higher education in engineering continued and the students finished the semester unscathed and safe.

And for Vasques, he found his good side in the camera, and he looks forward to the future.

“Can’t wait for interactive holograms, so we can all ‘be’ in the same room without actually being there,” he said. “Also, flying cars. Clearly Sci-fi movies have set me up for disappointment.”

MAE has always been about innovating either through research, discovery or how we educate future engineers. With the summer semester being online and the possibility of an online education being a larger part of higher education moving forward, our faculty will continue to adapt to give the best education as possible to our students.

Written by Jake Rahe (.21), MAE Communications Assistant