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Remote Learning Perspectives: Austin Doctor

Austin Doctor

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 Austin Doctor, an assistant professor in the Department of Government at EKU. He is currently teaching POL 101, POL 220 and POL 415 in an online format. 

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

A: While my courses are highly structured, I try to make each class period a little different. I facilitate engaged learning by incorporating a variety of instruction methods throughout the week. I often mix lectures with classroom exercises and small group discussions pertaining to the day's key learning objectives. It's important to me that, in each class period, I connect theoretical ideas to real world examples so that my students know what these abstract concepts look like on the ground. 

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

A: For faculty, just like for our students, the sudden demand to move to remote instruction coincided with a host of other disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. That said, I had instructed two of my classes online already. While the mid-semester shift to an online platform required a lot of work, I felt better prepared to take on this task relative to many of my colleagues at other institutions who did not have prior experience with online instruction. I am also fortunate to work in a department that supports one another. We are working together to give our students the best possible education that we can, and a sense of normalcy, in these hectic times. 

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

A: One of the biggest challenges for me was translating class exercises that I designed for an on-campus setting to the online platform. For example, in my Introduction to International Relations course, my students and I spend the final week of the semester engaging in a multi-day, interactive simulation based on a scenario developed by the U.S. intelligence community. Since many of EKU's students are facing understandable constraints regarding reliable internet and computer access as a result of COVID-19, regular synchronous meetings are not a fair expectation to place on my students. So, I've developed an asynchronous version of this simulation exercise in which students will upload links to recent podcasts, news articles, or policy reports that support/challenge key premises of the scenario. We'll weigh and discuss these bodies of evidence on the course discussion board. 

Another challenge that is unique to this outbreak is figuring out how to incorporate COVID-19 into our revised course materials and exercises. So many of our students are still reeling from the changes that this outbreak has caused. I think one way to help them process this is to bring COVID-19 into our lesson plans and assigned readings. For example, for my Terrorism and Political Violence course, I have been uploading to Blackboard official statements by militant groups around the world who are responding to COVID-19. Some are declaring temporary ceasefires, some are limiting their operations in certain global regions. Other militant groups are taking advantage of this crisis for propaganda purposes by pointing fingers at their opponents who they claim are responsible. The whole world is experiencing this coronavirus; this offers a new learning opportunity. 

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

A: ​This experience is teaching me how to develop a variety of tools to help my students meet the same course learning objectives. Necessity is the mother of invention. The COVID-19 outbreak has made it necessary for faculty to adapt to a wide range of new constraints without dropping our standards. Because of that, in the long run, I believe this experience will make me a more effective teacher.

Published on April 22, 2020

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