While the suspension of on-campus classes in response to COVID-19 has been a letdown for students and educators across the nation, Butler University faculty are working hard to create new learning opportunities in the midst of crisis.
“It is deeply disappointing for many, if not all, members of our campus community that we will not learn and work together in person in the coming weeks,” wrote Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kathryn Morris in a recent message to students, leading up to today’s launch of online learning. “Yet, by and large, people in our community are coming together virtually to make the best out of a truly challenging situation—with YOU, our students, at the heart of our efforts. Faculty have just spent three intensive days preparing for this transition. They are working harder than ever to provide you with the same high-quality educational experience you are accustomed to at Butler.”
For Abbey Levenshus, an Associate Professor of Strategic Communication, that means drawing on the current crisis to provide an up-close and personal case study for her students who are studying issues management.
Even before COVID-19 began to affect all of us in some way, Levenshus was using the outbreak as an example for how issues evolve over time. At first, the class looked at this as an early or “emergent” situation. Over the last several weeks, students watched as the issue progressed to “current,” and then “dominant,” and, now, “crisis.”
Even in emails to students regarding the logistics of switching to online learning, Levenshus has offered mini-lessons on how the pandemic is a living model of the concepts they have been learning all semester.
“But then I also remind them that this issue, too, will pass,” Levenshus says. “Eventually, this will be dormant. Right now, it’s very real, it’s very present, and it’s having a serious disruptive impact on our lives. But we’re going to be okay—we will figure this out.”
To move class content online over the last week, Levenshus started by inviting students to join the process. An email survey gathered data about the students’ living and learning situations: What technology can they access? Do they have textbooks? Have they ever taken an online class? She used the answers to those questions while deciding how to move forward with the semester.
“That really helped me because I felt like we were doing it as a team, even though we’re separated right now,” she says.
And Levenshus says it’s that separation—not the workload of moving online—that’s the hardest part.
“You know, you love these students,” she says. “I think one of the strengths of Butler is that you have these smaller classes where you really get to know one another. There is a deep sense of loss in terms of that classroom community. But part of my job is helping students gain perspective: If we can grieve our own losses while also looking for opportunities to be thankful, I think we will get through this even stronger together.”
Shelly Furuness, an Associate Professor of Education, is also grieving the loss of face-to-face interaction. Still, especially for the Butler seniors currently serving as student-teachers in K-12 schools, Furuness says students are gaining valuable experience in adapting through disruption.
“This is not about perfection,” she explains. “It’s about modeling how to teach in the face of the unexpected.”
For example, Butler students will continue supporting teachers at a Zionsville middle school with the design and creation of e-learning content. Furuness says the digital space can actually give educators more time to experiment with presenting the same material in a variety of ways, making the experience more accessible to students of all learning styles—something teachers don’t normally have the opportunity to do with face-to-face lessons.
“It is absolutely a challenge, because this is a personal disruption, too,” Furuness says. “But I think this gives us a good opportunity to show that the platform is less important than having a high-quality, flexible instructor. Even as we are modeling how to handle a crisis, we have the resources we need to help Butler students meet the same learning objectives we set back in January.”
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