Orange Alert

Skip to main content
Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Adapting the Changing Climates – Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted on: Oct. 1, 2020

The University’s commitment to residential classes for the fall brings with it many new complications. These include starting a week earlier in August and ending the semester before Thanksgiving break and even scheduling classes for weekends. Students are strongly discouraged from leaving campus, which will impact our fieldtrips. Social distancing requirements mean that lectures in our large-enrollment classes will have to be online because of the seating limits of our auditoriums. Available space across the campus does not permit these to simply meet as multiple sections at different times. To accommodate students who cannot get to the campus, for example those who remain abroad or who are in quarantine, online presentations must be recorded so that they can be viewed when convenient in any time zone or when health issues permit. Even medium-sized classes of 30, like our recitations and labs, will have to meet with face masks in multiple sections because of distancing concerns. Not what any of us ever imagined for our Department.

Moucha's home office
Prof. Robert Moucha’s home office conversion to a streaming studio for live lectures in the era of COVID-19. “The greenscreen allows me to chromakey pow¬er-point lecture slides to be behind me while I stream and simultane¬ously record my lecture. This allows my students to see me interact with the slide as I talk about the content; like the weather reporter and their weather maps on nightly news. The set-up required good lighting on me and lighting for the green screen to elimi¬nate my shadows. I am also using multiple monitors, one as a teleprompter, one as a broadcasting studio where I can see the final stream product and the view of my students while in Zoom and the other to display the power point lectures or any other content I wish to share with students, e.g. video clips.”

One of the most obvious adjustments to teaching has been the need to develop online classes. Just before Spring Break in mid-March the University abruptly terminated residential classes and all of our classes had to be shifted to an online mode. Summer classes and many fall classes will continue to be offered online with some component of in-person interaction limited to small classes, recitations or lab sections. The faculty and teaching assistants had to very rapidly learn new approaches to instruction as well as how to make videos and to transfer entire classes into accessible software programs. This is not simply as easy as making a video of each class meeting since interactions with students are much more difficult. Homework and exams have to be managed online too. One of the biggest challenges is adapting the active learning, hands-on teaching of our teaching labs.

Moucha teaching using the green screen as background
Prof. Rob Moucha presents a lecture streaming to Zoom. Here he discusses the Cave of the Crystals in Naica, Chi¬huahua, Mexico in a lecture on minerals. Shown are the giant selenite crystals (gypsum) along with cave explorers wearing specially designed air-conditioned suits. He uses a digital graphic tablet to write on the slides.

The faculty and teaching assistants did a heroic job at the end of the spring semester but they are now faced with even larger jobs with greater expectations for the fall—and possibly beyond. Research has also been strongly impacted. In March, all research ­facilities across SU and in the Heroy Geology Laboratory were shut down. Beginning in early June, the SU administration began allowing faculty and graduate students to return to work on campus under strong health and safety restric­tions. Research is being re-established progressively in phases separated by two weeks. In each phase only a few additional investigators are authorized to return. Fortu­nately, many faculty and graduate students online re­search, data analysis and writing can continue from home for now. Consequently, the Department’s steady stream of exciting contributions to major scientific journals has con­tinued to be strong.

With most faculty, graduate students and Department staff working remotely until early August, Department business has contin­ued with virtual meetings on Zoom, phone calls and email. Registration, advising, tenure and promotion reviews, committee work, budget and accounting, and countless other tasks that occur during normal conditions still have to be done, but all remotely.

As we look forward to the early start of the fall semester, we also have to plan for new health and safety precautions. These in­clude regular cleaning and sanitizing classroom spaces before each class, face masks, deep cleaning overnight, frequent checks for symptoms and accommodating whatever comes up if infection begins to spread.

fingers and small scale bar for photo on an outcrop
Dr. Linda Ivany and her TA Daniel Phillipi got creative for their Paleobiology class. Dr. Ivany went out to the outcrop and took pictures of herself and the rocks and fossils, at various scales. Then she did a live online overview for her students about how to approach a new outcrop and what they could see there in terms of stratigraphy, sedimentology, and trace and body fossils. Then Dan¬iel prepared an exercise for the students with pictures of each taxon recovered at that locality that they could identify using a field guide. He connected the photos to a Roll-a-Die online app that he set up with the probability of finding that taxon based on prior abundance data. Students did virtual sampling of the assemblage to find out how the number of taxa they recovered changed with the number of fossils they ‘collected’. Then students prepared a paleoecological write-up about the fossil taxa and the ancient ecosystem to which they belonged. Al¬though students were disappointed about not being able to collect fossils themselves, the exercise was a success in the virtual world.

I think you can see that the faculty, staff and students of the Department have just begun to adjust to living with the threat of Covid-19. Neverthe­less, we expect to be able to maintain our strong research programs, offer our class­es for both majors and non-majors and adapt to whatever comes our way. We look forward to life beyond the current restrictions, but for now-- we got this!