What was it like for the Carroll School’s top-rated teaching faculty to shift their classes online this spring? 

Eighty professors met virtually on May 15 to debrief on just that—and to distill their own learnings from an unconventional semester. The widely attended meeting was a recent Best Teaching Practices Lunch, one of an ongoing event series for Carroll School faculty that usually includes free sandwiches in Fulton Hall, but which (like most things) has moved onto Zoom. 

Judith Gordon

Professor Judith Gordon, chair of the Management and Organization Department and the Carroll School’s Teaching Committee

The meetings are led by Professor Judith Gordon, who chairs the Carroll School’s Teaching Committee as well as the Management and Organization Department. While earlier sessions this year have featured guest speakers and detailed presentations, this one was more fluid: an open discussion about the successes and challenges of remote teaching. “What we want to focus on, and what we want to hear from each other, is what worked and what didn’t work for you,” said Gordon. 

The conversation that followed shed light on what it really takes to deliver top-notch, student-centered teaching—on a screen.

The Technology Juggle

Mastering the technology—and fast—was an obvious first step. Faculty described the uncanny experience of recording lectures in an empty room (with special software provided by the University). Others raved about paperless “speed grading” using digital rubrics (the topic of their previous meeting). 

How else did Carroll School professors use technology to recreate common classroom routines, from taking attendance to giving exams? Zoom has some features that helped, like “raised hands” and “breakout rooms” for small group work. But most professors described juggling multiple tech tools simultaneously: using iPads in place of whiteboards, polling students in real time with phone apps, giving quizzes with Google Forms, and locking students’ web browsers during exams. 

If all that sounds like a lot to manage while leading a live-streamed class, consider another big piece of advice: Be sure you still teach standing up. 

Rules of Engagement

Why stand up to teach online? It’s more interesting to watch. As the meeting notes distributed after the call explain, teaching on your feet “allows more options for gesturing and moving around to maintain engagement.” Gerald Smith, associate professor of marketing and chair of the Product and Brand Management specialization, was among several to affirm this. “It helped me to engage with the class,” he said.

That concern—about engaging students over Zoom—came up often. Some tactics for keeping students tuned in: Hold live classes (rather than post recordings) and make attendance mandatory. Calculate participation in final grades. Start each class with a quiz. Another near-universal rule: require that students’ cameras stay on.

Best Teaching Practices Lunch Series

The Carroll School’s Best Teaching Practices Lunches are held regularly throughout the academic year. Hosted by the Teaching Committee, faculty from across departments gather to discuss best teaching practices, as well as interesting and challenging teaching problems. This spring, these ranged from the pragmatics of online grading to meeting the needs of a diverse student body. The lunchtime series is moderated by the Teaching Committee’s chairperson, Judith Gordon, and is slated to continue through the summer as faculty refine their teaching practices and prepare for the fall semester.

John L. Collins, S.J. Chair in Finance Philip Strahan regretted not implementing that last one. “All of my undergrads kept their cameras turned off, and I think this is to be discouraged,” he remarked. “It’s just not conducive to professionalism.” 

Learning Virtually, for a Real World

Beyond establishing the basic rules of engagement, many professors went to great lengths redesigning their courses midstream to meet the moment we’re in.

George Wyner, associate professor of the practice of information systems, had students interpret visual models of COVID-19 data released by Johns Hopkins University. “I was trying to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone wanted to spend their class time dealing with the thing that they were dealing with the rest of the time,” Wyner said, “but I think a lot of the students found that helpful.”

Senior Lecturer Rita Owens adapted the major assignment for her Communication for Consultants class, which originally required students to craft communications for a real company over the course of the whole semester, by telling students that “because of the pandemic and everyone working from home, the client cancelled the engagement.” Since most students in the class were headed into consulting jobs, Owens guessed that communicating with their clients about COVID was “something they were going to have to deal with right away in the next few months anyway.”

Accenture Professor of Marketing Kay Lemon made a similar shift. Her students gave live presentations to Boston-based manufacturer YORK Athletics over Zoom. “It actually worked very well,” Lemon said. “They gained some amazing skills that will serve them, at least for the next six months or so.”

Like most, Lemon logged extra hours to ensure her classes were as interactive as possible. Her trick: Make sure students “have something active they need to do every 15 minutes.” She gave highly detailed directions in advance so students knew what was required of them at every turn. “All my classes were prepped when I started this,” Lemon said. “And it took me probably another six to eight hours for each class to re-prep it, to redesign it for that kind of interaction.”

Worth the Extra Work

Most professors echoed Lemon on the increased workload. Linda Boardman Liu, associate professor of the practice and assistant chair of the Operations Management Department, praised her son, “who cooked every single meal for the first three weeks we were home,” while she worked longer hours. 

But all that extra effort may have a long-term payoff. Several professors made adjustments that worked so well they plan to stick with them, even when classes meet in person again.

Associate Professor Rachel Spooner used online discussion boards to foster dialogue between her marketing class meetings. “I've got some students who don’t raise their hands in class typically, but who gave really high-quality answers,” she said. “I shouldn’t be surprised, but they were very engaged.”

Spooner’s colleague in the Marketing Department, Senior Lecturer John Fisher, "flipped" his classroom when teaching case analysis and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. “It worked so well that I think I am going to do it in the fall,” he said—“regardless of where my physical presence is.”