Faculty stepping up to support transition to distance education

Contact: Erin Flynn
Lucinda Stinson teaches from her dining room table while her dog lays on the couch.

Lucinda Stinson teaches a class via WebEx from her dining room while her dog, Snowy, looks on.

Follow the University's COVID-19 response webpage for the latest updates.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Distance education has begun for all Western Michigan University students. The transition to online forms of learning is an effort to flatten the curve and mitigate risk associated with the global COVID-19 pandemic, and it's new territory for many students and faculty.

For Lucinda Stinson, a part-time instructor in the College of Health and Human Services, it means that her dining room has transformed into her classroom. The change seemed daunting at first.

"There was a wide range of emotions, running from fear to confidence that I can do this," says Stinson, who spent the weekend learning and preparing. "It really took a mental adjustment for me, because I'm a people person. I'm not overly computer savvy, but I know that I can figure it out."

Stinson reads from slides in her presentation.

Stinson took advantage of the help available through the faculty technology center to learn about using WebEx. She says the staff there walked her through the steps and she was able to pick things up quickly. Plus, she had her daughter on standby if there was something she didn’t understand.

"She's a millennial," laughs Stinson, admitting that sometimes learning new technology can be a challenge. But she points out, she does have an advantage. "As a health care professional—I've been doing this for over 40 years—you always have to think on your feet. So, I can always go from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C very quickly."

Her flexibility and commitment to taking on this new challenge is something Dr. Edwin Martini, associate provost of WMUx, has seen from faculty members across campus.

"At the end of the day, we're all in this together. Students are learning new tools, as well," he says. "Our staff have been working long hours, into the night and throughout the weekend, to make sure that we can support our instructors and our students during this challenging time."

Students are supporting instructors, as well.

"My students have been absolutely wonderful," says Stinson. "They know that this is going to be a little tricky, but you know what, we're doing this all together."

Some classes are easier to shift to an online learning platform than others.

“Our faculty have been amazing," Martini says. "From the moment we announced the shift to distance instruction, they have organized, attended, and led workshops, shared ideas from their colleagues around the world, and are doing whatever is needed to shift their delivery methods to meet the needs of our students.”

Lucinda Stinson teaches in front of her laptop from her dining room table.

Dr. Jeffrey Angles, a professor of Japanese who heads up WMU's Japanese language department, says language classes are particularly difficult to transition online because of the need for rapid back-and-forth interaction. But, he says, he's been working with instructors in his department to adapt to and overcome those challenges.

"Over the last few days I've been trying to help part-time instructors reconceive of how to teach their classes," says Angles. " I'm trying to help them understand what we can do well on an online learning environment and help them focus a little bit more on those things."

Ultimately, says Angles, this is a "new adventure" for everyone involved.

"It is all hard work, and there will be bumps in the road along the way," agrees Martini. "But, if we continue to work together, we will get through this."

"I think that collaboration, that unity, that common denominator is really going to propel us," Stinson says. "As long as we keep it fun and let the students have a good experience, we're all going to be okay."

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.