COVID-19 Response

Converting Classes Online

Faculty transition to virtual classroom during unprecedented times

Hand writing on digital surface

Chair and Professor of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics Anna Maria Spagnuolo uses her Microsoft Surface Pro to write out math equations in her weekly classes. Photo by Robert Hall

Screenshot of online class

Now, Dr. Spagnuolo uses her Surface Pro to make her virtual classes more interactive in Google Hangouts.

Student Success

icon of a calendarApril 6, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Kelli M. Titus

Share this story

Early this spring, Michigan “hunkered down” as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe. As Michigan’s numbers for infected cases continues to grow, Metro Detroit and surrounding counties are experiencing the greatest impact to societal health in the state. But, in times of fear and tribulations, true character emerges. It is these unprecedented times that bring forth unity and goodwill. 

“At this exceptionally challenging time for our campus, we must work together to protect the health and well-being of our Oakland University community,” explains Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, M.D. “In times like these, I have no doubt in the abilities, perseverance and commitment of our faculty, students and staff to collaborate as we navigate this unfolding, and difficult situation.”

In an attempt to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oakland University moved all face-to-face classes online March 16, 2020. The transition forced faculty, staff and students to discover innovative ways of keeping students engaged and on track. But, for a university that prides itself on hands-on learning in classrooms and labs, this transition would provide an opportunity for innovation for some faculty members, including the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. Chair of the department, Anna Maria Spagnuolo, Ph.D., describes that she “had a feeling” the university might go online before the announcement was made, and had started preparing her faculty. She enlisted the help of student Andrew Dimmer and Visiting Assistant Professor Rosangela Sviercoski to train more than 35 faculty in the department on methods for teaching their classes online, including the use of Google hangouts and WebEx. 

Dr. Spagnuolo also held additional training sessions for her faculty the days leading up to the launch of online classes. “I was familiar with using Microsoft Surface Pro laptops with the software, Drawboard, to teach my regular classes,” she explains. “So, once I learned how to go online using Google Hangout meetings, I started teaching faculty and instructors about that, as well as how to give lectures using a Surface Pro.”

With a team of support from her administrative assistants, associate chair, the College of Arts and Sciences dean’s office, and University Technology Services (UTS), as well as Microsoft, Dr. Spagnuolo was able to purchase every Surface Pro available at the Somerset Collection's Microsoft Store for her faculty and lecturers. 

“The entire department was online by Monday, March 16, thanks to the Dean's Office, UTS approval of laptops and the family atmosphere that many on our faculty and staff demonstrated,” Dr. Spagnuolo says. “There was so much love and support shown by every member in the department. That was instrumental in getting us online quickly.”

Across campus, departments came together to support one another in this transition. In the College of Arts and Sciences, Josh Young, theatre professor and Broadway actor, was featured on a local television news program in New York City about moving OU’s performing arts courses to remote learning. Meanwhile, Susan Beckwith, Ph.D., inspired her Honors College students by using methods of collaboration and creating new knowledge using mediums they frequently use for entertainment. “In one course, a student demonstrated their understanding of characterization in a Victorian novel by compiling a Spotify-style ‘playlist,’” she says.  “Through the song titles, lyrics, and music composition, the student revealed themes, symbols, and plot elements in the novel, the socio-cultural historical time period in which it was written, and how it is still relevant to readers today.” 

Faculty in health professions were also forced to rethink how they train our future doctors and nurses. The School of Nursing trained students who were in need of clinical hours with case studies and virtual simulation products such as V-Sim. In the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (OUWB), first- and second-year medical students began learning remotely through recordings from the school’s significant archive of recorded classes, while fourth-year medical students — who typically are matched into residency programs at a renowned event amongst their colleagues, friends and families — had their Match Day celebration shifted online, receiving emails with the much-anticipated details of their future endeavors. 

OU’s Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost James P. Lentini, D.M.A., explains that when he announced in December his departure after this academic year to become president at Molloy College in New York, he could never have predicted what the university would be facing with the huge disruption caused by COVID-19.  “The daunting task of moving our entire teaching platform to remote learning was taken on with admirable skill, innovation, and dedication by our faculty and staff, with the tremendous expertise and support of e-Learning and Instructional Support (e-LIS),” he says. “As I prepare for my new adventure in New York after seven years as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost here in my hometown of Metro Detroit, I am proud of my academic affairs staff and our entire academic community that rose to the occasion in support of our students.  I look forward to watching the great work of Oakland University expand into the future, and I wish to express my sincere gratitude to everyone at OU who offered personal support and partnership in our mission to deliver academic excellence.”

Discover more ways to support students and the campus community.

Share this story