Innovating and Adapting: The Dominican Experience Flex

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Highly personalized teaching, thoughtful mentoring, and meaningful interactions with the community are at the heart of every student’s Dominican experience. None of this will change despite the challenges presented by COVID-19 during the 2020-21 academic year.

Faculty in all disciplines have spent the summer of 2020 rethinking and redesigning their fall courses to ensure Dominican’s transformative education continues in a safe and supportive environment, regardless of delivery method.

“Our faculty are developing a range of flexible and engaging curriculum delivery options to ensure the best possible experience for students through a model of The Dominican Experience Flex,” says Dr. Mojgan Behmand, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of The Dominican Experience.

Dominican is infusing flexibility and creativity into all plans for the 2020-2021 academic year in order to follow public health guidelines while providing all students with a high-quality education, a structured network of personal and professional support, and opportunities to interact with each other and their community.

“We are adjusting our signature program, The Dominican Experience , in order to build in plans for a variety of flexible delivery options throughout the fall semester,” Behmand says. “Classes offered through The Dominican Experience Flex will prioritize a highly-engaged model of education through a mix of in-person, hybrid, and online course delivery as needed.”

While last spring faculty had to pivot quickly to reinvent their courses for remote instruction due to the coronavirus pandemic, this fall faculty will incorporate a variety of online techniques to offer strong learning experiences both in person and online.

For example, in a flipped classroom model students will watch video presentations in advance of discussions  — allowing for more classroom time to be spent collaboratively discussing and learning the material. Some faculty also are planning to hold small group and tutorial-style meetings with pre-assigned online readings and assignments.

The University has invested in resources, training, and technology to help ensure the online work meets our standard of excellence. The IT Department remained fully staffed throughout the summer to provide faculty with a range of resources and instructional tools to enhance online learning. A series of professional development workshops offered in July and August will help faculty hone online teaching skills and adapt hands-on collaboration for remote delivery. 

Personalized Education

Dr. Brad Van Alstyne, assistant professor of Communications in the School of Liberal Arts and Education, is among Dominican faculty leading a workshop session. Last spring, he successfully — and quickly —  transformed his in-person courses to an online format when Marin County’s shelter-in-place order was issued. The sudden switch from in-person to online learning was almost seamless because of the classroom environment already in place at Dominican, he says.

“The culture of Dominican has always been a student-first venture, and, in this case, once the students knew that they still had full access to me, we were fine,” Van Alstyne says. “I was more focused on the individual than the mode of delivery.”

Being flexible was — and will continue to be — important.

“I had several students that either had to work once they got home or had home environments too busy for class at the assigned time, so we just created another time for them and we were fine,” he says.

Van Alstyne, whose doctoral dissertation examined successful online teaching strategies, is confident that this fall he will maintain that same connection with his students.

“What worked for me last spring was making sure that students could still email or text me or even meet independently with me via Zoom,” he says. “It wasn't as fun as having the students all in the same room, but they really stepped up and took advantage of all the different ways they could reach me.”

Innovation and New Perspectives

This summer, Dr. Perry Guevara, assistant professor of English, is teaching a virtual Introduction to Acting course as part of the University’s menu of free summer classes. His students are discovering how acting via webcam not only challenges, but also freshens the creative process as they consider what theater might look like in the age of global pandemic.

“We tend to think of acting, especially in university-level theater, as an in-person craft, but the move online has proven an opportunity to innovate both pedagogically and artistically,” Guevara says. “I’m discovering new ways to teach vocal technique, breath work, movement, improvisation, and characterization."

In the fall, Guevara will teach Poetry & Fiction as a fully online course, making use of communication platforms, including Zoom and Slack. Students will have access to a custom-designed website that serves as a repository for course materials, including assignments, readings, and other virtual resources.

“As a teacher, I thrive on the energy of the classroom, and before the pandemic, I practiced embodied pedagogy, especially in courses on theater and service learning. Students didn't sit idly at their desks while I lectured at them; they were active participants in their own learning: practicing creativity through self-expression, exploring bodily knowledge through movement, and engaging directly with the community,” Guevara says.

“While I certainly miss these elements of in-person teaching, I’m also a proponent of digital literacy, and online coursework prompts students to learn and critically reflect on communication technologies in the Information Age. As a professor of English, I remind students that literature includes more than just books; it encompasses multiple media such as film, podcasts, blogs, vlogs, video games, and even Tweets. What better way to reinforce this lesson than by integrating such technologies into the online classroom? I’ve had students create podcasts, write flash fiction as Twitterature, and even build their own websites.”

Last spring’s quick move online wasn’t too difficult, Guevara recalls. He says credit goes to Dominican's “industrious and conscientious students” for making the transition so smooth.

“They were willing to show up via webcam every week and continue to learn despite the circumstances,” he says. “Our progress was barely interrupted, and students were able to produce fantastic work by the end of the semester. Now that we’re several months into this global pandemic and facing so many unknown factors, I hope that we can continue to practice resilience, adaptability and, above all, compassion.”

Synchronous and Asynchronous

This fall, Dr. Diane Suffridge, associate professor of Counseling Psychology, plans to balance synchronous teaching — class sessions with real-time presentations and discussions — and asynchronous teaching — videos and other resources that can be accessed by students at their own convenience.

Class will be held during the assigned time primarily on Zoom, with 20-30 minutes in some weeks spent by students viewing videos for class discussion, doing role plays in dyads, or working on a case vignette.

Suffridge will email her students in early August to welcome them to the program, introduce herself and summarize the course and how it will be taught, plus share student feedback from the spring semester.

“I will invite my students to meet with me via phone, video, or in person to discuss any questions or concerns they have about learning via Zoom and online instruction,” she says. “That will provide a personal touch for those who may not have experienced online learning and may have some concern about losing the intimacy of being in a classroom.”

Hybrid Learning: Unprecedented Online Access

Dr. Jordan Lieser, assistant professor of History, plans to teach a hybrid model. He will record lectures, but his history labs are set to take place in small groups. If he needs to migrate to entirely online, these small group activities can still be done via Zoom.

Lieser has taught at least one class online since 2011. This summer, he is teaching his four-unit History of U.S. Immigration course and the one-unit "Bugs and Mickey Go to War: Censorship and Propaganda during World War II" course as part of the University’s free summer offerings.

“These courses are developed specifically as online courses, so there is a rhythm to the course and appropriate learning outcomes that fit the format,” he says.

While Lieser firmly believes in-person learning is more valuable to the student, he notes that online learning does offer some opportunities for innovation and flexibility.

“We lose out on the classic `classroom culture'  when we teach only online, which is something students and teachers are used to having since kindergarten; however, I have been experimenting with new ways of providing accountability and creating an atmosphere of learning to help offset this change,” he says.

“I also find online courses are great for information literacy and research skill development. Historical archives around the world opened their collections via online access at an unprecedented rate due to the public health closures. There has never been a better time for at-home archival research than right now. Dominican's librarians also adapted incredibly well, providing students with online support and identifying all of these new resources as they become available.”

Creative Solutions: Research In The Labs

There will be some classes that are more challenging for online instruction than others, particularly those with labs, but faculty are finding creative solutions.

Dr. Vania Coelho, professor of Biology in the School of Health and Natural Sciences, is planning to assign a combination of research papers, movies, reflection papers, and hands-on projects the students can complete off campus. This balance will allow her to build in time to work individually with all students.

“Class time in the lab will be used for personalized guidance, with a specific time assigned per student,” Coelho says.

For her research class, students will be expected to do some of their work in the lab, pending public health guidelines. Coelho’s experiments take place in the wet lab, which is one of the smaller labs in the Science Center. So she’s come up with a solution in order to stagger student time in the lab, online, and in the classroom.

“The department purchased a GoPro camera so I can film procedures,” she says. “I intend to post them online with written guidance so students can be in the lab at different times to perform the tasks.”

Coelho will check in with her research students every week online and may schedule in-person meetings as needed. However, she is prepared to adapt the research lab class to the new demands of the situation if required to work fully online.

The Flipped Classroom

Dr. Thomas M. Cavanagh, associate professor of management in the Barowsky School of Business, is planning for online instruction this fall. For the last two years he has been using the "flipped" classroom structure, in which students watch recorded lectures before class, and then class time is spent on discussions, activities, and role plays.

This fall he will draw on best practices for online instruction, developing process for recording short lectures on PowerPoint, posting them to YouTube so that students have control options such as speeding up the video and using closed captions, and then embedding those videos in Google Forms and adding questions to ensure students actually view the lecture videos, and to help them understand and remember the material.

Challenges this fall will be creating a cohesive and inclusive classroom culture in a virtual setting.

“So much of learning — good classroom discussion, for example — depends on students' relationships with each other and with the professor,” he says. “That culture is created through personal interactions such as conversations while students wait for class to start or after it's ended, and also just from the body language and tone of the professor, much of which is lost in virtual settings.”

However, along with challenges, there are opportunities that can transform online teaching to high-touch teaching.

“It’s often a lot more convenient to set up online sessions with individual students than it is to try to match schedules to coordinate in-person meetings during office hours. Online resources allow professors to connect to students when and where it's most convenient for them.

Providing students with both structure and flexibility will be a key focus this fall.

“With all the uncertainty in the world, students need to have a very clear understanding of their course expectations: which assignments are due when, where materials are located online, etc.,” he says. “When you're not teaching face-to-face there are a lot fewer opportunities for quick side discussions before or after class if students missed something important. Professors need to be adaptive to the individual needs of students to ensure they can succeed given their unique situation.”

Telelearning Alternatives

The nursing program is expanding a successful telenursing program it began last fall with long-time community partner West Marin Senior Services (WMSS) while introducing new telenursing placements with assisted living facilities in the East Bay.

Last spring, Dr. Ellen Christiansen, assistant professor of Nursing, quickly transformed the WMSS partnership from an in-person program into a telenursing option designed to provide direct patient care to elderly clients. (Read a page-one story about the program in the San Francisco Chronicle.) This fall, students will again be paired with elderly clients under the supervision of WMSS staff and Dominican faculty preceptors. The Dominican students will interact with the clients through a series of telephone or online sessions addressing nursing, health, and social well-being issues.

Department Chair Dr. Andrea Boyle says that the WMSS program provides students with hands-on experience delivering compassionate care during clinical phone interactions with this group of vulnerable and at-risk elders.

“Compassionate care is an essential part of nursing — and one that often is overlooked as students prepare to enter the workplace,” Boyle says. “This program will give the students a wonderful reminder of the importance of compassion and caring in nursing.”

Clinicals During COVID-19

With student input over the summer, the nursing program has invested in innovative software that will allow faculty to work with students in virtual simulation labs. Virtual patients appear on screen and can talk and have various vital signs such as blood pressure, heart and lung sounds, and they appear to be breathing. Students will perform assessments and provide education to these computerized patients.

“In virtual simulation, students use their computers to engage in patient care cases,” says Dr. Margaret Fink, professor of Nursing. “The students favor vSim for its ease of use and feeling of real-world patient care.”

Students also will be able to view instructional films made by the Department’s lab faculty — students have stated preference for “home-made” videos as opposed to professional movies made by publishing companies — while using supplies from the lab that they can use at home. Pending public health directives, students will be able to participate in one-on-one skill performance lessons and appraisals in the sim lab on campus by appointment.

In addition to the telenursing options, direct patient care will include a continuation of the collaboration with Marin County Health and Human Services in which nursing students worked at HHS COVID-19 testing sites, as well as in motels for homeless, and adult and aging services.

Zoom Whiteboards

Public health guidelines permitting, Dr. Randy Hall, the Dr. Lillian L.Y. Wang Yin Endowed Professor in Chemistry, hopes to offer his upper division chemistry lecture research course in person.

 “The plan for the fall is that I will lecture the first 1:20 minutes of a 2:40 time block and then the lab instructor will teach the second half of the block,” Hall says. “The lab instructor has organized the space so that students can social distance by alternating days.”

If the course goes online, Hall will use a Zoom whiteboard, which is what he did in the spring after hearing from his students that the whiteboard is the one tool they missed in the initial online lectures.

Students in Hall’s research courses use UC San Diego or Louisiana State University supercomputers to perform calculations, so the work can be done remotely. For data analysis, Hall hopes to work with one student at a time in his Dominican lab. He also has made a series of adjustments to his procedures in order to allow for remote data analysis.

“This summer, I have converted a lot of the data analysis procedures to Python code, which can be run in a browser window so that the students can perform the data analysis remotely,” he says. “The students also learn a little Python at the same time. We have also been testing out downloading some of the open source software to the students’ computers so they can run short demo/test runs of the actual calculations. I suspect we may only need to meet in person once a week, but we can go online if necessary.”

Moving Seamlessly Between Online and Hybrid 

Dr. Chris Leeds, professor of Management in the Barowsky School of Business, has developed two plans of delivery for his business communications courses.  A hybrid format will allow students to make presentations live in the classroom with the presentation Zoomed out to any classmate who may not be able to attend. The other is an online only version.

“I have rearranged the course delivery so that I can move seamlessly from online-only to hybrid, or hybrid to online-only as the situation demands,” he says. “This should allow the class to follow whatever the environment requires. Both delivery methods will include elements of traditional business communications as well as updated methods for communicating effectively remotely.”

As the course is often one of the first that new students take, Dr. Leeds is mindful of investing time in holding individual and group Zoom meetings with the students so they can reach a comfort level interacting with faculty.

“It is imperative I can get to know the students very well so I can help them discover the best approach for their continued success at Dominican. Traditionally, much of the relationship building takes place in the classroom or in casual conversations in the BSB offices. Since this is not going to be possible, I will have to invest more time in having individual and group Zoom meetings.”

Community Engagement

Community engagement will remain at the heart of the OT Community Program Development course in which Dr. Gina Tucker-Roghi, assistant professor of Occupational Therapy, introduces students to theoretical and conceptual models supporting community-based occupational therapy practice.

She plans to divide students into five teams to bring occupational therapy programming to organizations and populations that don't currently have OT services. Some teams will work with community partners while other teams will work directly with Tucker-Roghi developing projects focused in education and outreach.

For example, one team will collaborate with an arts organization to create “dementia-friendly" performances or exhibits that are sensitive to the needs of individuals living with dementia and their caregivers. Another team will work with caregivers in Sonoma County to provide caregiver training on strategies for effective social interactions using online meeting spaces. Teams also will create an inter-professional Dominican student chapter of the American Geriatric Society, curating training resources and materials created by previous student teams for Dominican’s Healthy Aging webpage.

In addition, Tucker-Roghi plans to continue a partnership that started this summer with Sonoma County’s Council on Aging. Through a mix of physical distancing visits and Zoom sessions, students helped the COA develop strategies to meet the needs of day respite program members living with dementia.

Furthermore, two student teams will present their capstone work at the online Occupational Therapy Association of California Annual Conference in October.

Contact Tracer Training Course

A new partnership with the County of Marin will enable Dominican to offer an academic course that will train students to work as public health contact tracers as part of the public health response to COVID-19.

“It is a century-old public health strategy for communicable disease control,” says course instructor Dr. Patti Culross, director of Dominican’s Global Public Health program. “This pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime experience — hopefully. Obviously, there is no way we could ever have planned such a formative learning opportunity. Students will have meaningful participation in an important public health function and in an event that has so unsettled and shaped everyone's lives.”

The synchronous part of the course will be a series of one-hour discussions with County staff about COVID-19 in Marin, the contact tracer job requirements, and how the County functions. Students selected to work for the County will be invited to share their experiences during later sessions. Contact tracers work with the County remotely.

Home and Abroad

Not being able to physically visit Ireland this summer did not deter Dr. Karen McCarthy, assistant professor of Occupational Therapy, from providing her students with a deep dive into the social, political, and historical impact of mental health in Ireland.

McCarthy was due to lead a global study course in which her students would gain on-the-ground insight into the evolving role of occupational therapy in mental health services. With the global pandemic restricting international travel, McCarthy worked with Dominican’s Global Education Office (GEO) to replicate her coursework for online delivery to 22 students. The result was an intense program featuring 14 guest lecturers, virtual tours, film nights, book club discussions, podcasts, videos, photography, lived experience narratives, scholarly articles, an art project (tying Celtic knots), and a live musical performance to end the course.

McCarthy’s guest lecturers (all based in Ireland) included occupational therapists, a local CEO, scholars in theatre and psychology, activists, and a composer. Virtual tours brought Ireland to the students.

“I wanted to capture the heart of Ireland, so I used images, video, and music to add an emotional and cultural dimension,” McCarthy says. She even created a Spotify playlist and invested in a green screen to use virtual backgrounds for each part of the course that tied to the location of the content being discussed.

McCarthy led one of the July faculty development workshops, discussing her experience converting a global learning course to an online course this summer. She anchored her discussion in Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences.

In order to capture the full range of abilities and talents that people possess, Gardner theorizes that people do not have just an intellectual capacity, but have many kinds of intelligence, including musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, spatial-visual, linguistic/verbal, bodily/kinesthetic and natural intelligences, McCarthy explains.

“I use examples of how I did this on Zoom including hosting live musicians, creating a Spotify playlist for reflection and breaks, hearing first-person narratives, using breakout rooms for small group discussions, making Celtic knots together, using virtual backgrounds and drone tours of sites we would have visited, and using the digital portfolio to capture it all as a final assessment. I tried to incorporate the sensory aspects of the classroom/life into teaching online.”

As she prepares for fall, McCarthy also is mindful of designing an entire sensory experience.

“I use the metaphor of teaching online to designing a play,” she says. “I'm considering the stage design (backgrounds, visuals), my body language, bringing more energy and personality (character development), music, lighting, art, and more creative ways to engage and interact.”

Integrative Coaching & Mentoring

This summer, Mark Jaime, associate director of Alumni Relations who also serves as one of the University’s integrative coaches, is teaching a special summer version of the popular first-year “Mastering College” course. The course is designed to provide a warm welcome to Dominican as students begin to build community with other new students while learning to navigate the University’s systems and learning platforms.

“Our first session went very well, and the students were really excited about getting to know each other,” he says. “Our goal is to build community and to serve as mentors and advocates while providing access to campus resources — we provide a roadmap of sorts.”

This fall, the integrative coaches will continue to offer “Mastering College” courses while working with students on strategies to adapt to a variety of delivery formats, with a focus on how to be proactive in terms of accessing resources, communicating with faculty and staff, utilizing career services, and working with faculty advisors on building course schedules.

“There are so many resources for students at Dominican, so we need to ensure that whether they are online or attending courses in person, our students know how to access everything that is available to them,” Jaime says.

Maintaining a human connection will be a priority throughout the year, he adds. “Whenever possible our goal is to have face-to-face meetings — whether meeting on a bench or having a walking meeting with a small group — we will make sure we continue to connect with students — and connect students to each other and other offices on campus.”

The Dominican Experience

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