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Brian Wright is an associate professor of kinesiology.

Faculty Perspectives on Teaching and Learning

This is one in a series of essays by DePauw faculty members as they reflect on teaching and learning DePauw-style. Wright is an associate professor of kinesiology and chair of the Kinesiology Department.

The first few steps leaving my home each morning bring me a great sense of joy, relaxation and peace.  I live a short walk from the DePauw campus. I truly treasure this time to focus on the day ahead, admire our campus landscape and exchange greetings with those I pass along the way.

My favorite mornings are those that bring bitter cold with the silence of falling snow. On one of these days I recall watching a clip where a meteorologist informed viewers on the dangers of cold exposure to skin. The clip was full of misinformation. My enthusiasm grew as I recognized this was a perfect moment for a class lesson. I entered my office with the excitement of attaching the selfie I snapped of my snow-covered beard to an email and sharing my intensions to discuss thermoregulation and exposure to cold temperatures with our Human Anatomy and Physiology class.

Move forward to March 2020, the pandemic, and altered approaches for classes. How do I best adapt my courses for the remainder of our spring semester? How do we (my wife Heather and I) balance our workloads while simultaneously conducting school activities with our six-year-old daughter? How will I conduct a remote summer research experience for one of our kinesiology students? These are just a few thoughts that looped in my mind as I continued my walks, trying to determine where to place my focus each day. Like many of my colleagues I worked to reorganize courses to increase flexibility and maximize time spent with students on virtual or phone office hours. It got us through the spring semester, but one clear observation was the interaction caused by the abrupt move to online course work, shift in faculty approaches and change in student and faculty’s personal environments left individuals overwhelmed. Rest was in order for us all.

At times during the summer, questions felt unresolved and difficult decisions remained. How does one choose between face-to-face, mixed, remote, synchronous or asynchronous teaching modes? How will I perform lab classes? Do we send our daughter back to school or do first-grade e-learning? 

I elected to teach mixed courses, so they were open to students on campus, off campus or commuting. Two factors weighed heavy toward this decision. First, many students must complete the Human Anatomy and Physiology class to be accepted into graduate programs. Second, most students enrolled in the courses I taught were first- and second-year students, so I suspected they would be on campus and desire an in-person experience. 

At times during the summer, questions felt unresolved and difficult decisions remained. How does one choose between face-to-face, mixed, remote, synchronous or asynchronous teaching modes? How will I perform lab classes? Do we send our daughter back to school or do first-grade e-learning?

After reflecting on extensive discussions with students during the spring and throughout the summer, I decided that my plan must be centralized around minimizing the sense of overwhelming change. To do that I decided to:

1. Simplify the course’s design and schedule.

2. Increase efforts to recognize student difficulties and bring an appropriate level of empathy to each situation.

3. Provide flexibility and maintain a sense accountability, both attributes students sought in our conversations leading into the fall.

4. Build ample opportunity to connect with students via video or audio into our weekly schedule.

5. Design meaningful work among peers in ways that aid our inquiry of knowledge, but do not stress students’ weekly schedule.

6. Seek student opinions in real time and adjust to our approach as necessary. 

7. Balance these variables so students perceive neither too much autonomy or constraint.

Ultimately, I held virtual “five-minute professor check-ins” weekly with each of my kinesiology students throughout the semester. One student survey read, “I believe the one-on-one connection with the professor through the weekly professor check-ins helped substantially with both my comfortability with the professor as well as my motivation for the class.” I recall in one conversation a student’s excitement to share with me that a recent laboratory question regarding how the generalized use of body mass index can be biased proved useful during a conversation with a physician as part of an ongoing internship. This kept my smiling all week.

Laboratory classes proved difficult. For the course in which a third of my students were off campus, we spent substantial time in Zoom breakout rooms with peer lab groups. Maintaining consistent lab groups and providing asynchronous and synchronous options during subsequent classes the remainder of the week minimized stress on student schedules and provided necessary flexibility. 

The introductory course in kinesiology traditionally requires students to be in close contact during physical activity, so we reworked protocols for some labs and abandoned others. We required distancing, split lab time periods, reduced the number of people in our lab, moved in specific patterns in our space, wore masks and followed sanitizing practices. Meanwhile, I recorded some aspects for students unable to be present. We also explored lab activities outdoors and introduced first-year students to equipment usually used in upper-level courses.

I traveled further outside of my academic (and technology) comfort zone and used Marco Polo, a cell phone app, to build class community and award credit for sharing how we each approached maintaining physical activity during this time. I participated by sharing videos of myself pedaling my old road bike atop a cycling trainer in my yard each week, spreading our “physical activity Friday” message.

Choosing a mixed-mode of teaching brought its challenges, but it is meaningful to recognize I am privileged to have a choice and I am grateful for the students who were willing to consistently provide feedback throughout the semester. I also would like to share my appreciation for the supportive conversations with colleagues in academic departments, athletics, student academic life, counseling services and libraries and my partner and wife Heather. All contributed to my process and continue to do so as I plan to begin the 2021 spring semester mixed-mode once again. 

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