Better Together: Academic Disciplines Respond to COVID-19

What will be the continuing impact of this epochal event after the virus ebbs? PSU programs shared how a changed landscape has influenced their disciplines and may provide new opportunities.

Athletic Training (AT) Master’s Program

When COVID shut down organized sports in Spring 2020, students’ vital clinical experiences were eliminated. Faculty rapidly adjusted and created online patient-based scenarios and telemedicine simulations to replace the lost clinical hours. When athletic teams could participate in modified practices and intrasquad scrimmages, AT students were able to get back to their clinical education and practice their skills with real patients in a modified way, including the wearing of gloves, masks, and shields. Students were challenged to construct new research projects that avoided physical contact with subjects and instead utilize survey methods, distance observation, or home exercise and treatment interventions to answer research questions.

Biology

Faculty ensured that students continued to get hands-on experiences by adapting student inquiry-driven labs in integrative biology, microbiology, and animal behavior, engaging students in collaborative lab projects early in the semester, collecting data using sophisticated equipment, and learning up-to- date techniques and protocols. Subsequent data analysis and reporting occurred either face-to- face or online, allowing students to receive a complete and rigorous experience while being flexible to changes prompted by the crisis. The relevance of course material to the pandemic was incorporated through open discussions about the scientific process, scientific merit, and biomedical and societal impacts. A lecture about virology and discussion of the 1918 flu was added to molecular biology. Genetics was offered with a student-centric mindset. Students could attend in-person with social distancing, synchronously online using Zoom, or asynchronously, offering flexibility to those at high risk for COVID, who needed to support their family, or had other complications.

Business Graduate Programs

The pandemic is a double-edged sword with both challenges and opportunities. Half of last summer’s original MBA cohort members chose to take a mixture of on-campus and online classes and required remote learning assistance even in the on-campus classes. This made it initially challenging to cultivate the “community spirit” among cohort members, but faculty served students by adapting to new instructional technologies, providing accommodations, and encouraging both student-teacher and student-student interactions. We also saw increased challenges to our online MBA and MS accounting programs. Most of our online students are adult professionals and many slowed down their pace of classes due to various health, family, financial, and employment issues. Intensified competition in online business education was recognized as an opportunity to strategically identify and highlight our brand’s selling points. The pandemic has forced students to become more farsighted and more understanding of the benefits of a master’s degree versus a year of work experience.

Computer Science

Students made use of Spinoza, a new web tool created by faculty colleagues at Brandeis University, in PSU’s intro programming course in Python. Students wrote code to try and solve problems and the system told them whether it was correct, letting them give anonymous help to peers and enabling their professor to track their progress. Overall, CS students may be in one of the better situations during the pandemic as there are lots of opportunities for new technology to help maintain communication and some sense of normalcy.

Criminology/Criminal Justice

COVID-19 is having a profound impact on our criminal justice system. The virus in our prisons forces us to question bail and holding prisoners while awaiting trial, and what a “speedy trial” means during a pandemic. Additionally, how will we conduct safe trials when jury boxes are traditionally less than three feet apart? What does this mean for public trials if it’s not safe for the public to be present? Will your right to confront your accuser be OK via Zoom? The safety of law enforcement is another serious question, considering that 20 percent of NYPD officers were sick with the virus at one point. How do we not put police in harm’s way when quite often they are our first responders? Much research needs to be done.

Educational Theatre Collabora- tive (ETC)

ETC’s TIGER (Theatre Integrating Guidance, Education, and Responsibility) program recognized the need for addressing the COVID crisis with more online programming for K–12 students. Turbo TIGER (tinyurl.com/TurboTiger) is allowing the company’s high-quality offerings to be shared worldwide instead of its typical three-hour, in-person radius.

Meteorology (BS) and Applied Meteorology (MS)

In the stressful process of adapting our courses we gained new skills, technological savvy, and useful gadgets that we would have never obtained otherwise. Remote internships will likely join the variety of other opportunities available to students, and we expect that professional conferences will continue providing some programming online. The pandemic forced us to offer courses we never thought could work remotely and opened our eyes to new possibilities. Combinations of asynchronous work and synchronous joining of our in-person hybrid courses could attract new remote students to Plymouth State and allow them to complete their entire degrees online. We highly value the in-person student experience but believe we can also deliver a high-quality remote experience and are ready to explore the best ways to do it.

Nursing

“I am a nurse. What is your superpower?” This description of an RN has never been more accurate. As the pandemic evolved, fearless health care providers worldwide cared for ill patients and PSU senior nursing students remained in their capstone clinical placements. The hospitals wanted them to stay, but there were too many unknowns to take the risk and, while the move to virtual learning was smooth, the group longed to be back at bedside. After much weighing of pros and cons, there was an offer of early graduation and temporary licensing to get the cohort back to clinical practice. Students rose to the occasion and completed their courses on an accelerated schedule, facilitated by dedicated nursing faculty. These exceptional graduates earned a 100 percent National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) pass rate and are using their patient care superpowers in New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, and Tennessee.