Preparing for the Unknown, So We Can Be at Our Best
Baylor faculty are prepared to make the most of online and hybrid education for the fall
By Cameron Barbier, senior marketing specialist, Baylor Marketing and Brand Strategy
WACO, Texas (July 31, 2020) — Universities will be faced with numerous changes, challenges and opportunities during the fall semester due to the mitigation and management of campus health as it relates to COVID-19. Baylor University is by no means exempt from these headwinds; in fact, the University is uniquely positioned to be successful despite them.
In preparation, Baylor looks to several faculty experts in remote education to help equip faculty for the fall, including Master Teacher Laine Scales, Ph.D.
Scales, who has taught at Baylor more than 20 years, is a professor in the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work and also works in faculty development by collaborating with adjunct instructors to develop their online teaching skills. In recent years, she has taught in the school’s online graduate programs while simultaneously coaching other faculty to teach online. She has been involved heavily over the past few months in equipping Baylor faculty to thrive in a growing online environment.
“After teaching online for some time, I saw the need for an intensive summer experience for newer online faculty,” Scales said. “We assembled a partnership between the Library and Academic Services team and the Academy for Teaching and Learning to offer the Online Faculty Institute. And that was in 2018. We were working with professors in our newer online graduate classes, not having any idea that COVID-19 would bring so many more Baylor undergraduate professors online.”
Academic Rigor and Quality
This summer, Scales met with faculty for weekly sessions in the Online Teaching Commons through the Academy for Teaching and Learning, Baylor’s primary resource for faculty development. Workshops, seminars and a video, “Being Baylor Online,” help faculty with tools to support community-building in new remote environments and suggests ways to preserve the foundational Christian faith that undergirds the Baylor experience in online spaces.
These resources, along with a one-on-one faculty mentoring program, reflect the myriad opportunities Baylor faculty have to help them prepare to teach online with the same academic rigor and quality that is a hallmark of a Baylor education.
“In an online format, because everything is so regimented by the weeks, the professor must do a lot more pre-planning and post their resources early,” she said. “That's where the summertime, this pre-preparation phase, is much more intense than it might have been for somebody last summer who prepared for a class to meet in person only.”
Another guiding voice for Baylor in this change is Emily Hunter, Ph.D., associate professor of management in the Hankamer School of Business. Hunter has taught online as part of the Online MBA program at Baylor for six years and learned firsthand that while crafting an online course is different from an in-person one, it also opens up learning opportunities that might not have been otherwise available.
“It’s an opportunity for faculty to take more purposeful planning time this summer to create online courses for this fall that take full advantage of the benefits of online learning," Hunter said. "There are a great variety of online tools to choose from, which gives the professor a lot of flexibility and helps students feel connected and engaged.
"Our students are gaining invaluable project management skills when we provide them projects that are self-paced, collaborative and flexible in delivery mediums," she said. "My undergraduates, for example, were assigned a team case analysis project just after we converted to online this spring. This assignment was part of my original syllabus, so they expected it. However, given the pandemic, I provided alternative options: they could continue as a team or complete the project individually. I was pleasantly surprised that most of my students continued as a team, and one team even delivered their presentation to me live via Zoom. Allowing students autonomy to work at their own pace teaches them flexibility and self-discipline, both of which are critical in today’s workplace.”
Unique Practice Scenarios for a Digital World
Christopher Meyer, Ph.D., associate professor of management in the Hankamer School of Business, is another veteran of the Online MBA program, having taught in it since 2014. He has taught undergraduate classes online since the summer of 2017. Meyer noted that his hybrid undergraduate Negotiation course provides students with unique practice scenarios, allowing them to gain valuable skills in today’s highly digital world.
“Teaching negotiation and conflict resolution in a virtual environment is challenging due to abstract nature of teaching a class about human interaction, without the actual interactions,” Meyer said. “However, it has benefited the students in the Negotiation class insofar as the exercises are replicas of interactions that they are involved in currently. With the world working from home, negotiations are taking place in a virtual environment. The course exercises are negotiation simulations that the students complete in a virtual environment. This gives real-world practice in critical thinking, problem solving and human interactions while operating online just like they would be asked to do if they were in the workplace today.”
However, no amount of curriculum building can replace the importance of meaningful connections between students and teachers. Baylor’s culture uniquely positions it to offer an online learning experience that is distinct from other institutions. The interactions between course facilitators and their students is the first measure of quality of any online or hybrid course. These relationships affect learning outcomes and student engagement, and in many ways dictate the overall perceived quality of the course.
Scales echoed that position.
“It's hard to take a teacher from an online program that has a culture of ‘get as many students through as possible as fast as possible’ and teach them the importance of care and connection-building,” she said. “If that's your culture for online education, which, unfortunately, some institutions have, you can't teach people to care. What you can teach people to do is to find new ways of expressing their care, and I think that's it in a nutshell. Our Baylor professors already care. They wouldn't be with us if they didn't. We've already hired the best people who are outstanding in their areas and disciplines, who know how to teach, who know how to communicate that information, and we're asking them to add one extra skill, which is to communicate the care you already feel through an online medium.”
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 18,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.