FSW’s hands-on ground classes stall, sputter as they move online

Stuart Brown, theater professor, sits on the edge of the set his production class built over spring break for this semester's play. With the college closed, this is the first semester in 10 years Brown's production-class play won't run.

By Lianna Hubbard

FSW’s classes will restart online on March 23. Not every professor knows exactly how they’re going to do this, including Stuart Brown, who teaches theatre.

“All of my classes have an experiential learning component,” Brown said. “I think it’s a far different experience to walk onto a stage at Mann Hall than it is to watch a video online. Reading about acting is only useful if you’re an actor.”

These professors don’t have any other choice. The coronavirus has made it necessary for FSW to close its campus completely to students and move all in-person classes online.

“We decided for the safety of everyone that it would probably be best to not have face to face classes and put people who might not know they’re a carrier in rooms with people who were not carriers,” said Eileen DeLuca, FSW provost, on March 17.

Stuart Brown, theater professor

Brown teaches acting, directing, and theater production classes this semester. His production class ends in a play acted on a set designed and built by the students.

This semester, his class of 20 planned to put on a production of the modern comedy “Veri**on Play” revealing the soul-sucking experience of using Verizon’s customer service.

“Students worked all through spring break and now we won’t have an opening,” Brown said. “This is the first semester we’ve had to stop production in its track.”

Productions have gone on every fall and spring semester since Brown restarted the theater program 10 years ago.

All classes, especially ones with heavy student participation elements like Brown’s, must adapt their contents to the virtual format.

FSW is assisting professors with training for some of the online tools they may not be so familiar with.

One of the most popular tools is Zoom, a video conferencing program that would allow professors to have real-time lectures with students online. Zoom is available on smart phones as well as laptops.

“A student who doesn’t have a cell phone is few and far between,” Brown said.

FSW hosted a Zoom training session on March 17 that brought in more than 100 faculty through attendance and livestreaming.

While some faculty are just now discovering these tools, many are accustomed to using Canvas.

“Most of us at least are conversational with the basics of Canvas. Luckily the college had lately been pushing the faculty to use Canvas,” Brown said.

He said his biggest challenge is “trying to find way to make the content still engaging and useful and not just post a bunch of multiple-choice quizzes and tell them to go read the textbook on their own.”

Students are no longer allowed on campus, but some of them have classes that require in-person participation, such as labs or clinical experience in health care classes.

“Right now the deans are working with the faculty to determine what if any exceptions there will be. There will be very few, if any, exceptions,” DeLuca said.

Along with transferring their content online, faculty are also using this week to communicate with students about changes to the class and accommodating students.

 “We also have to think about student who may not have access to the internet. Faculty need to think about how our students may not have the same resources as us,” said Brown. “I frequently talk to students who are here in the evening and on weekends who don’t have access to the internet and came here for the wi-fi in the buildings.”

With the campus closed to students, using FSW’s wi-fi is no longer an option. The college is asking faculty to be patient and understanding of these challenges.

“We’re asking faculty to work with their students and be very flexible with how they help students access their course content and how they will accept assignments knowing that these are some challenges ahead to students,” DeLuca said.

Faculty will still be available to help students.

 “Office hours will become virtual,” DeLuca said. “Faculty will need to communicate to students when they’ll be available online.”

A day before the campus closure, DeLuca theorized how FSW might assist students hurt by this rapid shift to online.

“We have to start thinking through whether or not students should be able to drop without any penalty,” said DeLuca.

As of now, in-person classes are planning to resume in summer and fall semesters.

“What we do here relates to what’s going on in the world. There are a lot of plays that relate to pandemics,” Brown said, looking to next semester’s production. “We will persevere and make it through, and I hope we will all be nicer to each other when we do.”

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