Academic preparations: Innovation, engagement

Panels over two-day session address everything from health and safety to class size, technology, teaching tips and matters of 'heart and mind'

July 14, 2020
Staff report

Tara Natarajan, dean of the faculty at Saint Michael’s College, said two days of professional development with faculty on July 9 and 10 to prepare for the coming reopening amid the challenges of a COVID-19 pandemic were encouraging, productive and positive.


Tara Natarajan, dean of faculty

Dean Natarajan wrote to faculty after the sessions:  “In saying how good the two days were, one faculty member said, ‘…. at the end of each day, I felt so happy to be working with the people I work with: deeply thoughtful, generous, kind, hard-working educators, all of them. So many helpful ideas and considerations. It was a success.’”

Natarajan said the two days of Zoom meetings featured panelists on key topics. The purpose of day one was for faculty and co-academic members to hear about the overall academic process from the dean, and then about health and safety from Mary Masson, director of the Bergeron Wellness Center and on the logistics of campus coordination from Doug Babcock, director of public safety. Faculty that day had a chance to hear a synopsis of teaching across different pedagogies and prepare for the next day’s session with introductory prompts. A later day one panel offered information on classrooms and technology, spacing in different rooms, and the registrar’s ongoing work to re-assign classrooms in the coming weeks given that some faculty would be teaching remotely.

The last day-one session offered faculty and co-academic staff participants a chance to think about students and attendance policies, student code of conduct, and issues of intellectual property in this environment of teaching with online technologies. “The participation was wide, with all instructional faculty, part-time and full-time working together to share and participate,” Natarajan said.

Presenters “opened day two with heart and mind,” Natarajan said: Toni Messuri (director of academic support in academic affairs), Candas Pinar (sociology and public health faculty), Kathy Butts (Wellness Center counselor), Mike Bosia (political science faculty) and Margaret Bass (special assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion), were the panelists.  “Toni set the tone for us with her wholesome and practical wisdom and Margaret Bass moved us with her confidence and conviction to face our students and speak truth to power from day one,” said the dean. “Candas, Mike, and Kathy spoke eloquently about different types of student needs in our classroom.”

She said the rest of the parallel sessions “made the preparation for my own fall classes come to life … with tips from Jeff Ayres (political science faculty), Anne Crowley (instructional technologist) and Sarah Nosek (psychology faculty) on Canvas [and] a panel on classrooms and recording which featured a live demonstration from a classroom on technological options for recording.” She wrote that Amde Assefa (Information Technology), Tim Dusablon (academic technologist) and Jen Purcell (history faculty) “have inspired me to plan a few more demo sessions across pedagogies in different types of learning spaces on campus.” Canvas refers to an instructional technology system that most Saint Michael’s faculty use.

Natarajan also noted that Nat Lew (fine arts/music faculty) and Tom Van Dzura (business faculty) “provided such great ideas for discussions across vastly different subjects,” from music to accounting. At the same time as those sessions, she said, Angie Armour of the alumni and parent relations office, Allison Cleary (media studies, journalism and digital arts faculty) and Ingrid Peterson (career development) were providing specific ideas for connecting with alumni and guest speakers in the coming semester’s classes.logo

“The discussions and engagement of these two days have proved once again that engaging with each other, as we all prepare together to reopen, provided us with a space to feel supported and be supportive to one another,” she said.

In her recent communication to faculty, the dean shared details about more resources and programs to support instruction and faculty development in the coming year, including a $25,000 Davis Foundation grant she had the opportunity to apply for “to support adaptations to instruction and student support this fiscal year which came out of the academic planning work done in May/June”; more education technology workshops, and further meetings with Margaret Bass on optimally addressing issues of racial justice and sensitivity in classroom and campus settings.

With instructional technologist Crowley, Natarajan also is working on uploading recordings of the two development days and many centralized resources on the Canvas site that is being rebuilt for faculty to meet the demands of the unusual coming semester given the pandemic; also, as soon as room assignments are complete, the dean hopes to offer another day of demonstrating teaching from different types of learning spaces across pedagogies.

“Please know that we are working very hard towards every detail associated with re-opening along with answering all your questions and addressing concerns,” she wrote to faculty.  If it’s a question, concern or suggestion you have, most likely it’s on our radar and someone is already working on it!”

For their work in organizing the recent development days, the dean thanked Kristen Hindes (library staff), Allison Cleary, Anne Crowley and Karen Popovich (business administration & accounting faculty).







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