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December 1, 2021 | by Sam Shafer
Educators and students share useful lessons for virtual learning and post-pandemic instruction
For the 2021 Poultry Science Association Annual Meeting, researchers from Purdue University, Iowa State University, The Ohio State University and Mississippi State University came together to share what educators have discovered when it comes to course planning during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. They summarized their findings in a recent Poultry Science® paper.
Associate Professor Elizabeth L. Karcher of Purdue University describes how her students reported more physical and mental health issues when universities closed. Students were struggling to communicate with their instructors in the new format, so Karcher worked on getting them engaged again.
“Despite the many challenges associated with emergency remote learning, there were several positive opportunities that arose,” writes Karcher.
Karcher describes how many educators took the opportunity to connect students with guest speakers and experts from around the world. Instructors also worked to build up the “social” side of learning that students missed. They had students introduce themselves through fun videos, engage in polls and word clouds, and complete online team projects.
As Karcher writes, data do show that online learning is the method least likely to lead to student engagement; yet some online formats are better than others. Research shows that synchronous learning (when students can view a lesson live) increases student attention and enjoyment better than recorded lessons.
Assistant Professor Dawn Koltes of Iowa State University describes how going virtual affected the faculty themselves. She shares how her department at Iowa State University met to discuss the challenges. “Despite the differences noted in class format, class size, and instructor pedagogy, these faculty members found comfort knowing their colleagues were struggling to sort through similar issues and concerns,” writes Koltes.
One important realization was that many students and faculty had trouble viewing full Powerpoint-style video lectures because of inconsistent internet connectivity. To fix this, many faculty “chunked” their lectures into 5 to 10-minute sections. They also increased student engagement by providing self-guided worksheets and including discussion topics and quiz questions in their shorter videos.
Koltes emphasizes the need for faculty to create lessons that are practical—and adaptable. “When planning to implement any strategy, it is important for the instructor to consider how this will affect the instructor's/grader's use of time long-term,” she writes.
For example, when courses moved online, many struggled to find well-researched videos to share with their students on topics like animal handling. “Therefore, going forward, we should consider the creation of a database that will allow for the storage of created resources and tools that could be shared among institutions of higher education,” Koltes writes.
These videos are “evergreen” material for online courses and can be recorded once and used again and again, making them a potentially good investment of instructor time.
Assistant Professor Benjamin Wenner of The Ohio State University explores how virtual lessons can fill in for the hands-on labs that are so important for poultry and animal science students.
Wenner shares some best practices for instructors wanting to livestream farm tours for students. He recommends instructors visit tour sites ahead of time to make sure the internet connectivity is adequate for streaming video. He also recommends investing in some basic audio equipment. “Bluetooth or headphone jack lapel microphones make for a quick fix to capture audio from a couple of tour guides at limited cost and can even be combined with many cell phones,” Wenner writes.
Can’t dissect an animal in class? Wenner’s students found it useful to hand-draw diagrams of anatomy instead. Hand-done drawings can lead to better memory retention, and allow students to capture both macroscopic and microscopic details.
Wenner also shares creative ideas for take-home lab activities. “Personal examples of this technique in the past year include bagging wool samples to teach wool judging and boxing feed samples with instructions for hand-mixing animal feed blends using common kitchen supplies,” he writes. “In both cases, simple tricks such as intentionally leaving all samples unlabeled both sparked curiosity in students and forced them to guess at identification, which led to immediate discussions benefiting the entire classroom.”
Assistant Clinical/Extension Professor Jessica Wells of Mississippi State University shares responses from a student panel at the 2021 symposium. The three students on the panel agreed that the sudden shift to virtual learning was a challenge, and even when some students moved to a hybrid format, those still at home felt cut off from class.
“Hybrid sections seem to disadvantage those who are not in the face-to-face environment, resulting in a difference in comprehension of materials,” Wells writes.
A few things helped virtual students. Some benefitted from Zoom break-out rooms, and activities like scavenger hunts were fun ways to engage students. Along the way, instructor feedback was essential for keeping students engaged.
With most students back for in-person learning now, the researchers hope educators will continue to reflect on the lessons learned during the pandemic. “For many, the adopted teaching pedagogies in 2020 will carry over into their classroom as we return to face-to-face instruction,” they wrote in a recent Poultry Science® summary.
What does this paper mean for educators?
The full paper, titled “Sparking curiosity and engagement through online curriculum,” can be found in Poultry Science® and online here.
Categories: Interpretive Summary