Switching Course: Remote teaching tools inspire innovation, enhancements to course delivery

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

In large, complex organizations, change can sometimes take a lot of time, planning, paperwork, and meetings. But things could not have moved more quickly than they did the week of March 9 when Penn State made the decision to extend remote teaching and learning through the end of the spring semester to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus on University campuses.

Faculty members had a little more than one week to transition their classes to a fully remote teaching format and get up to speed on the digital tools they and their students would need to meet virtually. It was understandably challenging and stressful. But, for some, being required to learn new ways to teach was eye opening and led to revelations that will enhance course delivery when students return to campus in the future.

Dr. Jay Amicangelo, professor of chemistry, has been teaching in a traditional face-to-face manner since he started at Behrend in 2002 and said he was not fully aware of all the features available in Canvas, the online course management platform utilized by Penn State, until he had to move his classes to a remote teaching format.

“One part that I actually like is the idea of pre-recording my lectures ahead of time and then using class time to go over assigned problems, answer questions, and so forth,” he said.

It’s a new tool he plans to use when he returns to the classroom this fall to teach CHEM450 Physical Chemistry Thermodynamics, an upper-level course.

“In this class, I have always used the chalkboard to present material for the class because it is a highly mathematical class,” Amicangelo said. “I would often feel rushed in a given class to get to a certain point in my lecture notes, but now I’m thinking if I record my lectures over the summer using a camera in one of the classrooms, I can have them watch the lecture in advance, then I can use the face-to-face class session to emphasize important points of the material, go over assigned problems, and field questions.”

Amicangelo said this approach to teaching, called a “flipped” classroom, is a concept he had heard about but had never had the motivation to try himself.

“So, in a weird way, the current crisis opened my eyes to this possibility,” he said. “And, now that I’ve explored it, I like it, and plan to use it in the future,” he said. “I think students will really benefit from the extra opportunity to understand and explore the material in class rather than just listening to me lecture.”

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