D&E Takes on Creative Course Delivery in a COVID-19 World

As an uncertain Fall 2020 college semester nears at colleges and universities around the world, collegiate faculty and administrators have spent the summer months looking at creativity in course delivery. The COVID-19 global pandemic may well have steered academic instruction onto a path it will travel for quite some time.

In mid-spring, Chris Wood, President of Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia, assembled the institution’s Re-opening Task Force in a comprehensive approach to meeting student expectations for the fall amid COVID-19. Among the 10 subcommittees formed was the Professional Development and Tech Needs Committee. After that group, and all of its fellow groups, submitted findings and reports for the Returning to Campus guide that was released on July 1, one of the topics this subcommittee took on was options for how courses would be delivered.

“Many of us have been busy trying to design our courses to fit the new expectations for the fall because it was evident the academic world needed to adapt to the circumstances of COVID-19,” said Dr. Hillary Wehe, D&E Assistant Professor of Psychology and a member of the Professional Development and Tech Needs Committee. “Our committee created an outline of models for hybrid courses to provide possible examples for course design that includes potential schedules and structures various courses could follow. That outline also provides a list of tools and software that may be helpful for the different models.”

Wehe’s committee came up with a variety of suggested methods for organizing hybrid course schedules:

  • Hybrid courses — Hybrid, or blended, courses replace a portion of typical face-to-face instruction with online learning. The goal is to integrate online and face-to-face learning, combining the strong characteristics of both course delivery methods.
  • Face-to-Face Driver — Instructors typically still lead face-to-face lectures and discussions in the classroom for portions of the normally scheduled course days. Activities are then moved online for the remaining course days. For example, a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class could divide into groups where they meet face-to-face on Monday and/or Wednesday and be online Friday (or any variety of that option).
  • Online Driver — This model resembles that of a “flipped” classroom. Lecture and reading content are online. In-person time is focused on hands-on, or discussion-based, activities that expand on the online content.
  • Lab Rotation — Instructors typically move their lecture content online and provide readings and online book assignments, while maintaining face-to-face lab times to conduct hands-on learning.
  • Flex — Instructors typically maintain the structure of their courses for 1-2 weeks at a time, then move fully online for 1-2 weeks at a time.

Aiding in finding creative ways to deliver courses was a priority of the task force from the beginning: establishing new room capacity numbers for every location where instruction took place, based upon social distancing recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Decisions as to how course delivery will occur will be determined by academic departments and faculty, but having attractive options has been a big plus for this college as its fall semester is only weeks away.

“This subcommittee and the Division Chairs have led the way on course delivery options,” said Robert Phillips, Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs. “We have to provide a rigorous and engaging academic experience while simultaneously protecting the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff.  This can be done in a variety of different ways, as exemplified by the ideas presented by the committee.  It also needed to be done because academic and student needs can vary substantially by department or level of instruction.  What may work in an introductory course in Political Science may not work in advanced courses in Business or Biology.  Faculty have and will continue to come up with creative solutions to meet these challenges.”

In the face of a global pandemic, perhaps the toughest customer of all is this college itself.

“D&E is a small college in a rural area of a rural state, and we have had a lot of difficult decisions and adaptations to make as a result of COVID-19,” Wood said. “We have high academic standards, standards upon which this college was built, so it is important that we do everything possible to deliver a top-level education. That is something students and parents expect of us, and that’s also something we expect of ourselves. Even in the face of this pandemic, those standards cannot — and will not — be sacrificed.”