Baylor professors find new ways to engage students

Baylor professors have had to adjust their curriculum after Baylor's announcement to go online-only for the remainder of the semester. They also have had to adjust to their own newfound living arrangements. Brittney Matthews | Multimedia Editor

By Elisabeth George | Reporter

Baylor professors have been working to find ways to balance their work and personal lives while under stay-at-home orders during quarantine.

Dance and choreography professor, Meredith Sutton, said that the first week after spring break was the busiest she had been in a long time. Sutton is teaching four classes this semester, including jazz and ballet.

“Things started getting really crazy that Thursday of spring break … My first thought was, ‘I can’t possibly work, I teach dance. How the heck am I supposed to do that,’” Sutton said. “And then I realized, ‘oh, hold on, this is a lot bigger than any of us thought, I gotta figure this out.”

Sutton said she has had her jazz and ballet students turn in video submissions. In a class that previously only used technology to play music, Sutton she has been filming herself doing the warm-ups for her jazz classes and teaching the routines for her students to watch and practice at home.

For the ballet classes, Sutton said the classes have been meeting at their regularly scheduled time and she has been teaching the classes through WebEx in one of the classrooms in the theater department.

“I teach them the combinations, they watch me … and as I’m watching them I’m able to make some corrections and, you know, explain things. I’m keeping them moving if nothing else,” Sutton said.

Sutton has four sons between the ages of nine and 18 who are currently studying at home. Sutton said her work and home life have changed with the transition to working from home. Between choreographing, filming routines and viewing student submissions she said that her work hours are approximately the same as when she was teaching in person.

While Sutton said her day has become more busy taking full-time care of her boys, she said that since she only teaches two classes at scheduled times, her schedule has become a lot more flexible. This has given her a chance to focus more on exercising.

“Physical exercise is a big deal for me. I do Ironman competitions and things like that. And so I’m also continuing my running and things like that. Otherwise I would lose my sanity,” Sutton said. “[This time] has allowed me the flexibility to get really back in the shape that I’m used to being in as far as my triathlon training goes.”

Besides hobbies, Sutton said she has been getting together with friends over Zoom for virtual happy hours as well as keeping in touch with her community group at church.

“I’m in a spiritual direction group at my church, and we’ve continued that doing Zoom,” Sutton said. “Our church sends out a recording of a service, and the ministers will get together and so, Sunday’s we’re still doing church. And my boys’ youth groups they’re meeting up on Zoom in their small groups … So life, everything is continuing. Normal things are continuing in an abnormal way.”

Jim Kumahata, Japanese professor and director of the IMLC, said that he first found out about the switch to online learning during a hike while on spring break.

“As I was eating lunch after a breathtaking hike in Estes Park, Colorado, when an email caught my eye. A special announcement from President Livingstone stated that we would all go to online teaching,” Kumahata said. “Knowing my role as the director of IMLC, the technology hub of [the Modern Language and Cultures department], my responsibility had immediately increased substantially.”

As a result of this announcement, Kumahata said that he began receiving concerned emails.

“[They were asking] how do I teach online? Should I teach synchronously or asynchronously? How do I prevent students from cheating? Thankfully, to address these concerns, we were able to offer 13 pedagogically centered technology workshops to MLC faculty members,” Kumahata said.

Kumahata said that he is familiar with online teaching but it, and grading assignments, has been more time consuming.

“Teaching and grading take more time as we deliver online content. My attitude remains positive, as I face new challenges. I also enjoy taking technology to its limit,” Kumahata said. “The Japanese language team was already utilizing online tools [like video calls] as part of assignments and other activities in face-to-face instruction. To my surprise, our students speak of joy as they can see their classmates and interact with each other.”

While under quarantine, Kumahata said that it has been difficult, but he has been able to find a balance between work and home life.

“We were planning to be empty nesters. My daughter, a sophomore at a college, has returned home. All of her classes had become online instructions also. My son is with us after finishing college seeking other opportunities,” Kumahata said. “I take breaks by hiking Cameron park trails, movie nights and game nights, face timing friends and teaching college Sunday-school via zoom. I enjoy jogging, cycling, and other outdoor activities. I am glad that our shelter-in-place order allows being active outside.”