A Sense of Community: University of Findlay Professor Helps Bring Faculty Together
Armed with the passion for education, regardless of area, University of Findlay faculty, staff, and students are immersed in the culture and craft of a UF education at the ground level on a nearly daily basis.
So, when they were hit with a “change of scenery,” so to speak, in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift from that ground level to remote learning, most had to slow down and gather their bearings in order to get back to doing what they do in a different manner. The sudden switch to online education could be undoubtedly jarring for some, especially first-year and part-time faculty who may not have the expertise in online communication and education that others have.
No problem. The UF family is quick to help when it’s needed.
Amy Schlessman, D.H.Sc., D.P.T. Assistant Professor in Physical Therapy and a current mentor for the first-year Teaching Partners Program at UF, saw the need and sought to fill it. She did so by initiating what she calls “We are All in this Together Wednesday,” during which she not only hosts both day and evening virtual office hours for students so that they may ask questions about the coursework and find solace and support, she does the same for first-year faculty and any other folks who need the time.
Schlessman said that she decided to get involved with helping partly because she has several years of experience with teaching remotely. “I teach many online remote classes and hybrid classes, a combination of face to face and online instruction,” she said. “Thus, as soon as the announcement was made that we would need to rapidly switch to remote instruction, I immediately reached out to faculty members.” Schlessman let them know of her expertise in remote instruction and offered assistance in helping them to rapidly convert their normal methods of instruction to the virtual format. When some other members of faculty offered their time, as well, the idea took off.
“I had done just a little bit of online teaching in the past,” said Katy August, UF Instructor of Teaching in Mathematics and Coordinator of Mathematics Tutors, of her willingness to help Schlessman. “So, with this transition to being completely online, I’ve been able to build on that experience. Every day seems to bring new learning opportunities. I have been able to help my colleagues with some tools that they had never used in the past, such as delivering and grading student’s work, including math tests, completely online.”
“The quick response and willingness of all of us to step up and help train other faculty was wonderful,” Schlessman added.
The First Year Teaching Partner Program (TPP) at UF was, Schlessman said, a “wonderful experience for her” as a first-year UF teacher back in 2017, as it provided a way for her to meet and connect with faculty members from all over campus. “The program really fosters a sense of community amongst the faculty here at UF,” she continued. “So, as a mentor this year from the Teaching Partner Program, I reached out to support that community as well.”
Along with first-year faculty, Schlessman explained, she really wanted to reach out to part-time faculty as well. With adjunct faculty hovering right around the 140 mark, UF is well-represented by those who, while teaching fewer classes, educate Oiler students with the same rigor as full-time faculty. Schlessman said that she finds a special kinship with adjunct faculty because of her own teaching journey. “Over my career in higher education, I have been both a full-time and part-time faculty member, she said. “I have taught as part-time faculty at five higher education institutions. I was always appreciative of full-time faculty members who made a point to keep me ‘in the loop’ as well as lend a hand.”
Schlessman, also one of a handful of faculty who volunteered to be a part of the initial pilot program in the fall of 2018 for Zoom, a video conferencing service, has been training faculty to convert face to face instruction into both live video conferencing sessions with students as well as pre-recorded lectures using the platform. By showing faculty how to schedule live lectures and pre-record them with Zoom, use chat boxes during live sessions for students to type in questions/comments, and employ polling features where students can actively engage in low-stakes knowledge checks by answering a question the instructor poses, Schlessman is helping to equip faculty with the precise tools they need for the times.
Karen Beard, a member of the part-time faculty in the College of Pharmacy at UF, said that Schlessman and the program have helped her immensely. “I am a novice at Zoom and Canvas, [another software-based solution] used by the students and faculty for interaction, assignments, notes, slides and on,” Beard said. “Amy is a black belt professional at using the tools, and also understands the needs of the students. She had so many great tips and guided me one on one.”
Even providing simple reminders, Schlessman said, such as coaxing instructors and students to have their laptop power cord handy at all times so as to not have to scramble and look for it in the middle of a lecture, can be just the helpful advice someone needs right now. It’s yet another example of University of Findlay coming together in a time of uncertainty and creating out of it, not only positivity, but kinship. “From my perspective, both faculty and students have really rallied together to support each other. It truly embodies the Oiler spirit,” Schlessman said.