How a Master Teacher Transitions to Teaching Online

Like many Duke faculty Sherryl Broverman was forced to convert her class “AIDS and Other Emerging Diseases” from a large lecture addressing 200 or more students to an online conversation.  Even she was surprised, though, by how quickly the medium influenced the message.  “For my first Zoom class, on a Tuesday, I sat at my desk and wore a blazer.  By Thursday, I was on my couch and it was just more like having a conversation.  My cat even visited.”

The unexpected intimacy of Zoom changed the quality and content of interactions, as the Covid-19 pandemic caused Broverman to rewrite her syllabus.  It now focuses on the biology of the coronavirus, how it spreads, and how society is responding, while drawing connections to the AIDS epidemic.  The online environment makes it difficult for students to ask questions as they would in person, even as they are curious about her home and pets, so Sherryl has to take care to make extra time and room for them. 

Perhaps one of the most notable features of the transition is Sherryl’s ability to manage unexpected and awkward problems.  Some of her students are in far distant time zones, others have to work during the normal class times, or care for siblings or even parents with cancer.  Sherryl has eliminated some topics and tried to make the course as low stress as possible.  She has also assigned a special creative project to the class to help students channel their emotions and anxieties during the pandemic.  You can listen to a song about the pandemic written and performed by two of her students at the link.

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Teaching a Pandemic Course During a Pandemic