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Remote Faculty Perspectives: Andrew Wigginton

Andrew Wigginton

COVID-19 has forced universities across the nation to close their campuses and institute online instruction methods in a matter of weeks. While a sudden switch to remote learning presents unique obstacles, EKU faculty rise to the challenge and remain committed to student success. This installment in the Remote Learning Perspectives series features Andrew Wigginton, senior lecturer in the Biology department at EKU. He is currently teaching BIO 100, BIO 112/112L, and BIO 547/747 in an online format. 

Q: How did a normal class look for you before EKU moved to remote instruction? 

A: In Intro level classes, I used PowerPoint lectures and student participation software to promote interaction, with periodic hand-in assignments, activities, worksheets, and etc. These are classes of 40-60. In the Embryology class, I did some lectures with frequent breaks for discussion questions. No software needed for a class of nine!

Q: What was your reaction when you learned that this class would be moved to remote instruction?

A: I was concerned. This kind of movement is very labor intensive. I had taught a partly-online hybrid class in the past at another institution, so I had some experience delivering material online and giving exams on Blackboard. I now give YouTube based Live Stream Lectures for the 100-level classes. The Clicker-type software can still be used to provide interaction and students can ask questions or answer questions using YouTube’s Live Chat. In the Embryology lecture, I am recording PowerPoint Lectures with voice over and providing those. To try to keep the level of discussion and interaction high; I assign each student a question to answer on a Blackboard Discussion Board. I’m not live streaming in that class for a couple of reasons. First, time is limited and I am creating a lot of new content for this and other classes, and the recorded lectures give me a little more flexibility. Secondly, they are upper division students and are more self-motivated to study. Since they are upper division students (and one grad student), they have greater flexibility as well. Since the beginning of the class, we’d been using a service called PackBack to facilitate discussion about the scientific literature. Since that has been online since the beginning, it continues as before.

Lab classes are more difficult. 

For BIO 112 we are using the previous year’s data and I am making videos to explain “How we normally do things” and videos for how to do the analysis of the data we are “collecting.”. Much of this part of the class is about analysis of data, so that can still be done. We also use some online activities from SimBio corp. (SimUText) as homework, and those can still be done. However, a few people lack the computer access to do these since SimUText only works on Mac or PC computers. I am working up alternate assignments for those people.

For the Embryology lab, we are very limited. Students can use our online lab manual and some images of microscope slides provided by a former member of the biology department to make their Google Slides based online lab notebook. We’ve been using that notebook online since the start of the semester and it really helped me out with this transition. They will continue to make their lab notebooks using images from the online lab manual. I hope that will provide practice opportunities for what is mostly slide-based lab activity. For some hand-on lab procedure activities in that lab, I have found an online lab from Labster that may  provide a similar experience.

Q: What were some challenges you encountered moving instruction online? How did you solve them?

A: The primary challenges were finding the time and learning several new processes. Also, the mad scramble to find replacement activities has been stressful. It is a struggle to stay caught up!

Q: What have you learned from this experience?​​​

A: I’ve learned several new techniques and gained some new facilities with online services like YouTube LiveStream, and I’ve become more aware of some online tools that are out there. But I really miss my day-to-day interactions with my students. Lectures can be almost as good as live and in-person, at the cost of extra work, but labs are much harder to replace. They are intended to be hands-on, so they are almost impossible to fully replicate online, at least for the classes I teach. In the fall I usually teach Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy and much of the lab revolves around dissection of preserved specimens. It is good training for students who might have to take an advanced anatomy class in PA, medical, or veterinary school. I would have enormous difficulty replicating online what we do in person in the lab.

Published on April 29, 2020

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