Tag: Distance learning

Ingenuity, energy, commitment mark transitions to distance learning at LU

Students in Allison Fleshman’s Chemistry of Art class show their paper cranes during a virtual classroom session.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Physics students in Margaret Koker and Doug Martin’s Advanced Lab class received a package at their homes just before Lawrence University’s Spring Term began, complete with an Arduino electronics kit and oscilloscopes, tools to take part in a range of physics experiments.

Students in Jason Brozek’s Intro to Environmental Policy class are using the locations of their homes as part of studies on topics ranging from EPA Superfund sites and pollution data to climate change and wind energy.

Chemistry professor Allison Fleshman is teaching a Chemistry of Art course that will lead up to a virtual art exhibit titled Art and Chemistry Inspired by COVID, where students will highlight the chemistry of the art they’ve created over the course of the term.

Tim Albright is among the Conservatory of Music professors tapping into the expertise of professional musicians around the country who find themselves in lockdown at home, with time and energy to interact with his students via virtual masterclasses.

Art professor Ben Rinehart has created a library of how-to videos as part of an art book-making class.

Those are just a handful of examples of Lawrence professors shifting gears as they’ve taken Spring Term instruction virtual amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has colleges and universities across the country using distance learning to mitigate the spread of a virus that has put much of the world on lockdown.

Keeping instruction in depth and relevant while maintaining close faculty-student collaboration has been key as Lawrence faculty have transitioned on the fly to a new reality.

Teaching through this pandemic is a challenge that all faculty can rise up to meet, said Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics and chair of the Physics Department. Students need that to happen. The world needs that to happen. And she likes the response she’s seeing from her colleagues, whether in the sciences or the humanities or the arts.

“We believe, now more than ever, that this is our time to shine,” Pickett said. “The circumstances aren’t ideal, but then (Isaac) Newton changed the world when he was at home in quarantine in 1665.”

On that note, here are five examples of Lawrence ingenuity at play, starting with Pickett and her physics colleagues.

1. A physics community

Providing students with some needed equipment was just one step in helping physics students stay connected during this strange time, Pickett said. Communication has been constant, starting well before the term began and continuing throughout. A “Virtual Zoom Commons” has been set up for physics students, an effort to keep the community together virtually despite the physical distance.

Physics faculty members are working in sync even more so than usual, collaborating and sharing across virtual classrooms so they’re ready to step in to assist if needed.

“The changes my colleagues and I have made are significant and a testament to their commitment to physics instruction, and, more importantly, how much we care about our students,” Pickett said. “Our introductory course has two lab sections, which include video demonstrations of the lab that the students then analyze, as well as a host of virtual lab experiences culled from respected online sources. Ahead of the term, we made sure each professor was provided an iPad and Apple Pencil, in order to more easily use as a digital white board in our lecture classes. We’re also exploring different ways to use phones as sensors in case we need to do more remote labs in the future.”

Physics faculty meet via Zoom before the start of Spring Term to prepare teaching strategies.

Zoom office hours and the virtual commons have kept the student-faculty connections tight and have allowed the students to study together in a virtual space.

“Ultimately, it comes down to how much we cherish the community we’ve created in physics, and how much we miss our students,” Pickett said. “We have been working for some time on inclusive excellence in physics pedagogy, which has shaped our view of hidden inequities and costs in our classes—so important now as we rely on technology in a way we haven’t before.”

2. A matter of geography

Jason Brozek, the Stephen Edward Scarff Professor of International Affairs and associate professor of government, said he looked for ways to use his students’ varied locations as an advantage, or at least a teaching tool, during a Spring Term of distance learning. He set up class projects in his Intro to Environmental Policy class, for example, to allow students to do research and analysis that is connected directly to their home regions.

Each student has to choose two of three options for study, all tied to where they are living: Explore and interpret home region climate change data from Yale’s Climate Change Communication Program, which breaks down data all the way to the county level; use the EPA’s interactive Superfund map and Toxic Release Inventory data to dive into pollution in the student’s home region; and study wind turbine costs and policies and how that might play out in the student’s home area.

“I wanted to find a way to take advantage of our geographic distribution while also encouraging my students to engage in their local communities — safely,” Brozek said. “The course is already designed around concrete case studies that are deeply grounded in specific places — PCB pollution on the Fox River, for instance — so asking students to investigate their own communities was a natural fit.”

In his International Law class, meanwhile, Brozek is using the virtual format of Spring Term to zero in on digital topics. He has his students analyzing existing podcasts that range in topic from the Paris Climate Deal to LGBTQ asylum seekers to the International Criminal Court, then collaborating to create discussion guides for those podcasts that can be shared and used.

He said he aims to “help students have a bigger sense of purpose and connection” by having them collaborate on a virtual project that will result in useful content.

“The goal is to make all the episode links and guides publicly available at the end of the term,” Brozek said.

3. Musicians sharing knowledge

In the Conservatory, trombone professor Tim Albright is but one of numerous faculty members reaching out to fellow musicians to give students a bit of a bonus during this pandemic. With tours and venues locked down across the country, professional musicians and other artists who normally would be navigating busy schedules find themselves quarantined at home with plenty of time on their hands.

In that, Albright saw an opportunity. A former New York musician, he’s deeply connected to the NYC music scene, so he set out to invite some of those musicians into class sessions as special guests, providing his students with insights into the lives of working musicians.

The likes of bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton, jazz trombonist and composer Alan Ferber, and Carnegie Hall archivist (and LU alum) Rob Hudson ’87 said yes.

“Most of these folks are gigging, working musicians on the cutting edge of performance today, so for my students to get to interact with them in their living rooms is a huge opportunity that we wouldn’t have normally,” Albright said. “We’re turning lemons into lemonade. With no live performances happening around the world, their schedules are free and they’re jumping at the chance to connect with fellow musicians.” 

4. Art by design

When word came down that the world was going into lockdown and Lawrence’s Spring Term would happen via distance learning, art professor Ben Rinehart, a printmaker and book artist, went into tech hyperdrive. He quickly schooled himself on iMovie and Adobe Premiere software and began creating how-to videos for his students in intermediate and advanced artist book classes.

He sent each student a kit prior to the start of the term with tools and materials to complete each project. He also scheduled two virtual studio visits with colleagues in Florida and Washington.

“They are demonstrations to engage the students while we are all distance learning,” Rinehart said of his videos, which take the students step by step through various techniques in creating art books.

The first Rinehart video was on iMovie, the next 11 on Adobe Premiere, all done in the two weeks before classes started.

“Pretty proud of myself for never having worked with either program before,” he said.

For a sample of Rinehart demonstrating the Jacob’s ladder technique, see here.

5. Mixing science and art

Allison Fleshman is an associate professor of chemistry, and she’s a believer that there is plenty of room for creativity in the sciences. Hence, her Chemistry of Art, a lab science course for non-chemistry majors.

She pondered ways to teach lab in a virtual space.

“Well, the main take-away from a lab science is to practice the scientific method,” she said. “So, all of my students will make a piece of art or collection of art that inspires them, and the catch is that they must document their work — hypothesizing, observations, detailing the chemistry involved, and documenting the procedure — in a detailed laboratory notebook maintaining the highest level of scientific rigor.”

The creation of paper cranes was part of the first two weeks of the term, with each student then venturing onto their individual art projects. The Art and Chemistry Inspired by COVID virtual exhibition will be part of their final exam.

“The lab will also include many online simulations where they engage with the chemical concepts more rigorously,” Fleshman said. “But in the spirit of liberal arts, the Paper Crane Project, with a scientific flair, has connected the students using a symbol of hope known the world over.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Conservatory named “hidden gem” as faculty find new ways to connect, teach

Lawrence University students, led here by Director of Orchestral Studies Mark Dupere, gathered for an impromptu performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah just as Winter Term came to an end. Faculty are now finding new ways to enhance music instruction and maintain connections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

As Lawrence University treads new territory with distance learning for Spring Term, a consulting site for prospective music students has given the school’s Conservatory of Music a major salute.

Music School Central named Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music one of the best “hidden gem” music schools in the country. The top-10 ranking placed Lawrence at No. 3.

Bill Zuckerman, who oversees musicschoolcentral.com – he previously authored a column on the Conservatory titled, Is This the World’s Most Socially Conscious Music School? – called Lawrence “the definition of excellence in a liberal arts college music school.”

The ranking is music to the ears of Conservatory Dean Brian Pertl as he and his team launch into a Spring Term like none before. As are professors in departments across campus, the Conservatory faculty have taken up the challenge of keeping the community aspect of the Lawrence experience intact while shifting to distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here.

Lawrence professor launches national fundraiser for artists shut down by COVID-19. See details here.

Tears were shed when word first came down that Lawrence, like other colleges and universities across the country, would be quickly transitioning to virtual instruction during the spring, Pertl said. But the conversation among faculty shifted almost immediately to ways in which the learning experience could still be marked with close faculty-student interactions, community building, and opportunities to tap into skills that will be in demand in the music world going forward.

What’s happened over the past four weeks – Spring Term began Monday following Winter Term finals and a two-week spring break – has been nothing short of amazing, Pertl said.

In the horns studio, Assistant Professor of Music Ann Ellsworth has taken her practice of group warm-ups each morning in Music-Drama Center 163 and transformed it into a daily Zoom session with her horn students. And she’s invited prominent horn makers and horn players from around the globe to interact with her students via Zoom masterclasses.

Horn students join Ann Ellsworth (top middle) for daily warm-ups via Zoom.

“So, horn makers from the U.S. and horn players from places like the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and at least one from Germany will be Zooming in to speak to her horn students,” Pertl said. “It’s sort of taking advantage of this opportunity that a lot of these great musicians in the world are stuck at home, too. They are actually eager to interact with students.”

Trombone professor Tim Albright is working on a virtual trombone ensemble project, recording Charles Ives’ Variations on America, arranged by Lawrence alumus Dominic Ellis ’17. Trombone students will be recording their parts remotely, and the music will be stitched together on campus, thus keeping the trombone ensemble alive, just in a different setting.

Assistant Professor of Music Matthew Arau, who is teaching a rehearsal techniques class for music education, is partnering with middle and high school music programs in Malaysia, led by Lawrence alumnus Dan Miles ’10, and Hong Kong. Lawrence students will direct those music students from afar.

A number of student music groups, most notably in the jazz and improvisation area, will be exploring live improvisation in virtual spaces, performing together even though they are spread across the country or around the world.

Students preparing for junior or senior recitals are re-imagining what those recitals might look like. While some remain on campus and will stream recitals from Harper Hall, others are prepping for remote recitals that incorporate elements and skills that might not otherwise have been considered, including turning a recital into an animation-infused music video.

“All of sudden our students, instead of throwing up their hands and being dejected or saying, ‘I can’t,’ they’ve taken up the challenge, and they’re saying, ‘I can, and not only can I, I am going to do something that is going to push my boundaries,’” Pertl said. “They’re redefining what a recital can be.”

Staying flexible and staying connected are front and center as faculty and students venture into these uncharted waters.

“It’s beautiful, creative flexibility,” Pertl said. “We’re working with our students all the time to say, ‘This is what you’re going to need out there in the world, and this is what’s going to be exciting about being a musician in the world today.’ And they are going to be taking all of these forward-thinking practices, and they’re just going to be doing them, which is a sort of neat and beautiful thing.

“Is it ideal? No, it’s not ideal. Nobody wanted this to happen. But can we make the very, very best of this and come away with skills and knowledge that we wouldn’t have otherwise had to acquire, but skills and knowledge that will be beneficial for our students once they leave here?”

Ellsworth said her daily warm-up sessions with horn students might seem like a small thing, but it’s that sort of personal connection that students most feared would be lost.

“I ask everyone to mute themselves and then choose one student for each exercise to unmute so we can all hear that one person,” Ellsworth said of the sessions. “I play a short exercise from our routine and they all repeat it after me. The purpose of the group warm-up for horn is that half of the benefit is getting the mouthpiece off the face in-between exercises; it slows us down, prevents injury while we’re still cold, and sets us up for the rest of the day.

“But it turns out the real purpose for distance group warm-up is the time after our 45 minutes of playing, when I leave the room but leave the meeting running. I tell them they can hang out or not and that I’ll be back in 20 minutes, and I’ll come back and they are still there, hanging out, talking about student stuff. We had a prospective student join one meeting and I left them there to get acquainted because they can’t come to visit the campus. It’s super productive.”

There are dozens of other examples of collaboration and creativity taking place across the Conservatory as Spring Term gets rolling, Pertl said, all of which speaks to the ideals that landed Lawrence on the “hidden gems” ranking in the first place.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Looking to pitch in? 4 ways Lawrentians can help during COVID-19 crisis

Kate Zoromski, associate dean of academic success, restocks the student food pantry in Sabin House. The pantry makes food and other necessities available to Lawrence students in times of need. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The move to distance learning to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the midst of this global pandemic is a heavy lift for Lawrence students, faculty, and staff.

These are challenging, unprecedented times. But it’s a path we must take, and we must take it together.

“We have always risen to the challenges that face us with resilience and ingenuity,” President Mark Burstein said in a letter to the Lawrence community announcing the difficult decision to go to distance learning for Spring Term. “I know, as we have in the past, we will rise to this challenge and ensure that Lawrence continues to create a learning environment second to none.”

For details of COVID-19 response at Lawrence, see here.

As we lean into the values and commitment that have always defined the Lawrence experience, we ask everyone in the Lawrence community to do what you can to help our students navigate these uncharted waters. Among the ways we all can help:  

1. Donate to the Student Pantry: Whether for students on campus during spring break or those who will be here during Spring Term due to an inability to get home, the pantry can be an important connection. It offers supplies and food to students, but also needed items such as personal products. You can buy/donate directly through Amazon via a wishlist. Please note that Amazon has removed “non-essential” items from qualifying for rush shipping, but orders and deliveries are still being accepted and processed. More information about the Student Pantry is here: https://www.lawrence.edu/students/services/foodpantry

2. Contribute to the Lawrence Fund: The Lawrence Fund – Supporting Our Students (SOS) emergency fund has been established to aid students’ unexpected and urgent expenses related to the impacts of COVID-19. This fund will make available critical resources for immediate needs like our new distance-learning model, food, travel, housing, and other unexpected expenses. Every contribution helps support the University’s ability to assist students.

3. Be an alumni connection: Help Lawrence students network by signing up for our new Viking Connect program. Connecting with a current student and providing some positive guidance has never been more important. This is a chance to reach out virtually while still making a personal connection. See link here: https://vikingconnect.lawrence.edu/page/about

4. Support each other: Be supportive of other Lawrentians through use of the Alumni Directory. Stay connected in these difficult times and check in on one another using the directory and via Lawrence’s many social media channels including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Find the alumni directory here: go.lawrence.edu/profile

We are Lawrentians, now and forever. Let’s come together to be supportive as we grapple with difficult challenges and show our current students the path forward. In the darkness of uncertainty and deep angst, let us again be the light.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu