The COVID-19 pandemic closed Curry’s physical gates in March for a spring semester like no other in the College’s 141-year history. Still, Curry's community quickly united to adapt and create innovative ways to not only meet learning objectives but to nurture its close campus connection remotely. From celebrating student accomplishments to motivating fitness goals, and inspiring personal growth and creativity, Curry's sudden pivot to distance learning was met with the commitment, tenacity, and heart unique to its small community.
Cultivating Community from Home
"In our art classes, working together presents an opportunity to commiserate and identify with each other's struggles. We meet each other's pets. We see each other in their private spaces, which deepens the connection within the student community," says Heather Davis, associate lecturer in the Fine and Applied Arts program.
Education Professor Joanne Seltzer implemented theme days to begin each virtual class – from sharing go-to comfort foods to rocking Curry gear – to help students open up and become comfortable in their new digital learning environment. She plans to let an occasional "PJ Day" continue even after they return to campus and believes that the larger faculty body will take away much more from this experience of teaching remotely.
"There is a part of all of this that is oddly uplifting, allowing us to think about the effectiveness and efficiency of assignments, assessments, and the delivery of new content in each of our courses," she says.
Transforming Teaching and Learning
Davis, Seltzer, and hundreds of other faculty, staff, and administrators worked tirelessly during the extended Spring Break week that preceded the start of online classes to train on Zoom video conferencing and other distance learning tools with a focus on delivering accessible and engaging online coursework. Traditional classes, labs, and studios were transformed into pre-recorded simulation exercises, live game-show type quizzes, and interactive virtual field trips. When classes began again, students continued group work with virtual breakout rooms to finalize capstone projects or produce short films, podcasts, and presentations. Career coaches led virtual mock interviews while the Center for Early Childhood on campus continued show-and-tell with their preschoolers via webcams. Tutors continued exam review with students in virtual chat rooms. Other institutional services, including the Library, Speaking, and Writing Centers, continued with telephone and online sessions. Curry's Radio Station WMLN-FM even remotely managed and continued its 24/7 programming.
"It is wonderful to see how flexible everyone is as they step up to the plate for a game never previously played and where the goal line and rules keeping moving," says Faculty Chair and Program for Advancement of Learning Professor Diane Webber.
In place of their traditional spring performances, the Theater program produced radio plays for its annual Black Box production. At the same time, Dance students continued working on "Home is Hope," as a remote performance. The College's Sing! Choral Ensemble joined with other campus community members for a virtual performance of "Stand by Me" and debuted it at a virtual concert this week.
Other creative endeavors in the last seven weeks further demonstrate the community's unwavering support for each other, as they continued teaching and learning in a time of unprecedented challenge. The Women's Basketball and Soccer teams found creative ways to pass the ball to teammates; Athletics led a Social Distancing Fitness Club to log more than 600 miles of running, walking, and biking; and faculty and staff helped create a motivational "You Got This" video for students before the start of finals.
Faced with Challenge, Students Prevail
Alongside faculty, students too persisted through the end of the semester, often facing a myriad of challenges, from competing family obligations at home to spotty internet service, says Dr. Rebecca Kendall, assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology.
'Our graduate students are largely working professionals with obligations to care for children and, at times, aging parents. Many of whom are considered essential employees, working in various capacities in the criminal justice system," she says. "When Curry transitioned to a fully remote model for the semester, our second-year MCJ students rose to the challenge. Despite all they had on their plates, they continued to persevere through their Master's Capstone project to finish the program, and the quality of work they completed was excellent. I am immensely proud of our students for their diligence and commitment to finishing their Master's degree. Despite every challenge, they excelled."
Fine and Applied Arts Department Chair Iris Kumar can also attest to how students "raised the bar" and worked as creative problem solvers without access to their traditional campus resources.
"Teaching students to be innovative and to find solutions to problems has always been a core part of our curriculum, and it's evident that they're doing just that at home to overcome challenges. If supplies are low from their art kits, students are finding paint supplies in their basement or walking to a nearby beach to collect different materials," she says. "I've seen students do some of their strongest work during this time. They are taking the extra steps to find the materials and make their ideas come alive."
Similarly to Seltzer, Kumar plans to incorporate more of the flipped classroom teaching model she's practiced remotely in her drawing and 2D art classes in her on-campus classes in the future.
Real-Time Learning Opportunities
Students studying public health, economics, and sociology also gained new real-time learning opportunities by incorporating analysis of the global pandemic within their spring classes.
"Students in Sociology of Medicine and the Body launched into a detailed sociological analysis of the pandemic surrounding them," says Dr. Amanda Kennedy, assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology. "They became autoethnographers of quarantine, journaling about their experiences of the lockdown. Students are leaving the semester with a much greater understanding of what is happening in their world."
Students from the School of Nursing also gained a unique hands-on learning opportunity amid the coronavirus crisis with the College’s recent partnership with Tufts Medical Center. Jenna Muller ’20 is one of 18 senior nursing students now working as junior medical providers in support of the hospital’s nursing workforce. “We are ready and we are willing to help and we’re willing to take on anything that comes our way,” Muller said to the Boston Herald. “I’ve been learning so much from amazing nurses at Tufts.
In this time of crisis, despite many difficulties, all at Curry have gained a greater understanding of themselves, each other, and the world. “From adopting new technologies to reaching out with care and support to students and one another, we could not be prouder of how our academic community came together during this difficult time,” says Curry College Provost David Szczerbacki. “In our transition to remote learning, we’ve overcome many challenges without compromising our academic integrity and caliber. As a College, I know this experience will only add to our strength as a community.”