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Thursday, December 2, 2021

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Professor Elisa Sobo is utilizing Facebook as a means of communication to post news and analysis for the course Anthropology 402: Dynamics of Biocultural Diversity. Professor Elisa Sobo is utilizing Facebook as a means of communication to post news and analysis for the course Anthropology 402: Dynamics of Biocultural Diversity.

Finding Creative and Innovative Solutions in the Time of COVID-19

SDSU faculty and staff have introduced unique solutions to continue academic and co-curricular activities via virtual means.
By Ryan Schuler, Aaron Burgin and Padma Nagappan

As the disruptions and potential long-term impacts associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic became apparent, San Diego State University faculty and staff quickly began to organize. 

Within a matter of days, the campus community began moving classes, services, meetings, conferences, training and other important offerings into virtual modalities. 

Here are several ways faculty and staff are finding creative and innovative solutions as physical distancing and remain-at-home orders continue:

Virtual Coffee Hours Bring Faculty Together to Discuss Virtual Instruction

SDSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has established Virtual Coffee Hours to bring together faculty to share successes, failures, frustrations and triumphs in virtual teaching.

“I created the Virtual Coffee Hours as a space for faculty to help each other solve the challenges we’re seeing in our virtual classrooms,” said Sarah Elkind, CTL director. “It has worked wonders, but I’m not surprised. Everyone is bringing so much compassion, experience, and generosity to their teaching and these discussions.”

Topics range from sharing solutions for hands-on activities like labs, internships and service learning, to changing grading criteria and assignments.

The Virtual Coffee Hours will resume following spring break.

Elkind has also developed the “Five Days to Virtual Teaching: A Day-by-Day Planner for Making the Most of the ‘Pause’” workbook to assist faculty.

For more information or to suggest a topic you would like to discuss, please contact

Friday Virtual Happy Hours Create Community

In an effort to continue connecting members of the SDSU community, the Division of Diversity and Innovation scheduled DDI Virtual Happy Hours, held Fridays from 5-6 p.m. via Zoom. 

“Many of us, especially those who survive on social interaction, are in search of ways to maintain emotional connections without compromising our community obligation to slow the spread of this virus,” said Emilio Ulloa, chair of campus climate. “While we have been shifting to virtual meetings for work, we've discovered that this platform is also a great vehicle to connect with friends and family.”

All members of the SDSU campus community are invited to grab a beverage and log in to share stories, ideas and laughter.

“With these virtual happy hours, we hope to allow people an opportunity to network and to belong,” said Virginia Loh-Hagan, director of the liberal studies program. “We want everyone to know that we're all in this together and that we will get through this together.”

The link to the Zoom meeting can be found here.

Utilizing Facebook for Teaching

Anthropology 402: Dynamics of Biocultural Diversity, taught by the department chair and professor Elisa Sobo, focuses on the biology and culture in human populations over time. 

In this course, pandemics are an area of study. Sobo has altered the coursework to include real-time information on COVID-19.

“COVID-19 provides such a grimly beautiful way to illustrate so many things that my course covers,” said Sobo.

Sobo also utilizes Facebook to post news and analysis for the class as enrichment for her course.

“I continue to bring in COVID-19 examples,” said Sobo. “I've been teaching the course for more than 15 years so the 'current' disease threats I use for examples have naturally evolved over time, including SARS, Zika and Ebola. This is an opportunity to pull in something living.”

Student Life and Leadership Keeps Students Connected

Like much of campus, Student Life and Leadership (SLL) utilizes Zoom and other video conferencing systems as critical tools in keeping students engaged with campus activities. 

“Now more than ever, it is important to know that we can, and should, connect together virtually,” said SLL Associate Director Robyn Adams

The department is hosting "Spring Break Leadership Spring Training," a series of virtual leadership workshops during spring break. 

Also, SLL is accepting proposals from students and recognized student organizations for virtual programs. 

“In a time where we may feel confused and isolated, maintaining connection is critical,” said SLL Director Caryl Montero-Adams. “We encourage students to consider ways that they may be able to maintain community in the virtual space. Our team is available to advise recognized student organizations in transitioning to the virtual space and can provide information to students on how to get involved in the community.”

After spring break, SLL will provide training and workshops daily through the start of finals to help students enhance their professional development. 

Construction Design Adapts Well
Over in engineering, assistant professor of construction engineering Reza Akhavian teaches a lower division class on virtual design and construction, with 22 students.
He typically lectures for about 30 minutes and then has students work on applying the concepts they learned using computer models of buildings. Since the class is usually conducted in a computer lab, it lends itself well to virtual learning.
He records his lecture on Camtasia, loads it on YouTube and posts it to Blackboard, so students can access it anytime, even if they don’t log in during the regular Tuesday/Thursday evening class hours. He uses Zoom for group discussions, but is sensitive to the fact that his students are widely separated by time zones.
“I have a couple exchange students from Norway, and an international student from Vietnam who have gone back to their home countries,” Akhavian said. “There are several who have returned to different parts of the U.S. too. That’s why I record my lecture, because it’s not fair to expect them to log in when they’re in different time zones.”
To make the class more interactive, he’s added a peer review component, where each student is assigned a topic to research and post their findings for comment. Every student is expected to review at least two other students’ research. This has been well received, he said. 
He and his students sought help from Instructional Technology Services (ITS) to ensure the software programs needed for the class would work with their personal computers, since there were compatibility issues.
With the goal of improving learning outcomes and reducing equity gaps in STEM online learning, Akhavian plans to collaborate with colleagues at other universities on a research project on best practices.