By Emma Brentjens ’21

News Editor

A genetics lab adapts to virtual learning through Zoom. Photo courtesy of Carson Copeland ’21

Three weeks ago, Davidson made the unprecedented transition to online learning. The Digital Learning Team and the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at the library, along with T&I staff, spearheaded the effort to move courses to a digital format. They discussed the transition with The Davidsonian in an emailed response. “Although our courses were not designed to be online, we worked to give instructors ways to continue the community they had already built and carry that on,” said Sundi Richard, Assistant Director for Digital Learning. 

Lisa Forrest, Leland M. Park Director of the Davidson College Library, said, “This has been such a team effort — the library, T&I, and CTL — and we could not have made it through the last few weeks without one another.”

To make online learning possible, T&I has loaned students laptops and hotspots. According to Jessamyn Donovan, Director of IT Outreach and Engagement, “We’ve loaned 13 hotspots out to students so far and [five or six] to faculty.” 

“Our approach in getting faculty ready was to keep things as simple as possible. Going from synchronous to asynchronous if you have never done so is a sharp learning curve,” Richard said. Therefore, many professors decided to conduct their classes live via Zoom.

When asked how Zoom has been working for her classes, visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Dr. Anika Bratt said in an emailed response, “I am still figuring this out.” She added, “My teaching style is very active and that hasn’t changed.” Dr. Bratt uses breakout rooms to talk to students in smaller groups and the co-host function to allow students to lead class, which, she said, “has worked really well.” 

Carson Copeland ‘21, a biology major on the pre-vet track, said over email, “Zoom has made more possible than I would have expected, […] but even with all the functionalities, it’s not the same as being there in person.” 

While Copeland’s genetics lab has transitioned fairly easily to an online format, she said, “The professor and lab assistant did have to do parts of the procedure, such as the actual extraction of the DNA from flies, which we would have done ourselves if we were still on campus.” In her chemistry lab, Copeland said, “We are now watching videos of the procedures that we would have been doing.”

Dr. Bratt has also altered the format of her environmental science class, which includes a lab component that relies on going outdoors. “We are making it work,” she said with enthusiasm. Instead of investigating water quality and insects in Davidson streams, the class used data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). “It wasn’t the same as being outside, but it still got them thinking about how human land use impacts the water around us,” she said. 

Jessica Spillman, lab manager for the environmental studies and biology departments, aided Dr. Bratt’s class in switching to a digital lab by conducting one of the planned experiments, making it possible for the students to analyze data. “So far, it feels like we’re still accomplishing the goals for the course,” Dr. Bratt said.

The transition to online classes has presented students, faculty, and staff with unique challenges. 

Richard mentioned that “Some students have expressed frustration when they are in a situation where their connection causes them to miss parts of synchronous class, making them feel less connected.” 

“All of the activity at home can be distracting and make it difficult to finish work,” Copeland said. Additionally, Copeland expressed that going to office hours has become more difficult. “As a shy person […] I would rather go during drop-in hours instead of arranging a meeting beforehand by email, but making an appointment by email is really the only option now,” she stated.

For Dr. Bratt, the inability to see all of her students face-to-face has been especially challenging. “I miss having a good sense of how my students are doing. I am trying to make sure I check in with everyone one-on-one, but it’s hard when I have over 50 students,” she said. Dr. Bratt has used the beginning of class time to talk with her students. “Just spending a few minutes connecting has made a difference for me (and I hope for them, too),” she said.

“The short time frame that [they] had to work,” was the most difficult part of transitioning to remote learning, according to Forrest. “In some cases, faculty were brand new to technologies like Zoom — so we had to work quickly to provide workshops and individualized sessions to teach faculty the basics,” she said. 

Despite the challenges of online learning, Richard said, “I would definitely say we’ve gotten generally good positive feedback.” For Forrest, “Each day brings new questions, but it also brings new opportunities to connect and develop creative solutions. Everyone understands this is hard. We are all doing the best we can — and we’re getting through this together.” 

For students hoping to supplement their remote learning with further support, the library offers peer research and digital media consulting via https://davidson.libcal.com/appointments/virtualtutor. For academic tutoring support, email tutor@davison.edu.