Online Learning | Annual Report 2020

Annual Report 2020

Online Learning

In March, the pandemic forced Lehigh to move its classes online for the remainder of the spring semester. The campus reopened for the fall semester, but access was limited primarily to first-year students. In November, with cases on the rise, Lehigh again went fully remote.

Greg Reihman

Greg Reihman

Vice Provost for Library and Technology Services

With the growing threat of COVID-19, Lehigh faculty and staff had four days to collectively move more than 1,000 classes online in the spring semester. How was that possible?

Four things made the rapid transition possible. First, with two decades of experience helping faculty teach online, our Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning staff had instructional models and educational technologies already in place that we could use to help others. Second, our faculty were either already comfortable teaching online or were willing to quickly build skills. Third, we had technical staff who could expertly provide network connectivity and access to software that made remote work possible. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, we had solid relationships, built over many years, between LTS/CITL, faculty, students and staff that enabled us to make informed decisions, implement them quickly and respond as circumstances changed.

The pivot posed unique challenges to those leading labs, conducting research and teaching hands-on courses. How did the transition go?

The best solutions arose when instructors first focused on things that don’t require students to be in-person. I’m thinking of things like acquiring conceptual background, designing experiments or prototypes, undertaking observational studies, analyzing data, collaborating with peers, etc. With that worked out, instructors could, in most cases, have students undertake an adapted lab or studio project by either using a virtual simulation or using alternate materials at home. Where complex materials or advanced instrumentation were indispensable, they made changes to courses later in the curriculum so students will eventually have those experiences that they could not have remotely.

How did the experience in spring shape the return to remote learning in the fall?

The biggest difference was that we had more time to design and develop courses. As we did so, we integrated feedback from students and faculty about what was working and what wasn’t.

What is key to innovative online instruction?

You start with knowledgeable faculty who care deeply about their students. Then you help them design courses that actively engage students. Lastly, you offer support so they and their students are comfortable using technologies that matter most. For it all to work, it is crucial that faculty connect with students, foster their sense of belonging to the course, create a community of learners, and empower students to share what is working well and what could be changed for the better.

Will the experiences impact learning and teaching once the COVID-19 threat ends?

We will all return to our physical classrooms, labs, libraries and studios with a renewed interest in making the most of in-person interactions. We will also have acquired deep and rich expertise in applying technology in all sorts of ways to engage with each other, share information and solve problems. Put these two things together and all sorts of wonderful things will happen at Lehigh, both in our physical buildings and in our virtual educational environments.

Innovative Faculty

Masashi Watanabe

Masashi Watanabe

Associate Professor Materials Science and Engineering

Chris Kiely

Chris Kiely

Harold B. Chambers Senior Professor Materials Science and Engineering

They transformed Electron Microscopy and Microanalysis, a course with intensive lab components, into an online lab that allowed students to control an electron microscope remotely—even from their kitchen table.

Amy Forsyth

Amy Forsyth

Associate Professor Art, Architecture and Design

In her remote classes, she taught students how to design and build cabinets that functioned as practical storage pieces, as well as art pieces. Since most of her students would have access to cardboard boxes but not woodshops, she had them build their pieces out of cardboard instead of wood.

Screenshot of Zoom call


Faculty Training

To help faculty and teaching assistants make the rapid transition to online learning, Library and Technology Services (LTS) hosted workshops, first in-person, then via Zoom video conferencing and recorded sessions. It also rolled out online resources for faculty, students and staff.

Seizing on what was learned about online learning in the spring semester, Lehigh's academic leadership raised the bar and pushed forward on several fronts to prepare for the continuation of remote learning in fall. Workshops for faculty included "Using Zoom for Teaching," which explored strategies for getting the most out of the online tool to create engagement in the virtual classroom. Other courses included "Remote Instruction for Lab Courses," "Exam Design and Grading in an Online Environment" and "Team Projects and Collaborative Assignments."

"We've been teaching online for years now, and we're good at it," Georgette Chapman Phillips, the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business, said. "But in the undergraduate program it's always been the side dish, not the main course. We are now prepared for future disruptions when aspects of this format weave their way into the core and our students' principal college experience."

Greg Reihman, vice provost for LTS, said the goal was clear: to deliver a dynamic and interactive learning experience and to demonstrate leadership in using innovative technology to deliver high-quality education.

New Ways of Thinking

In the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, faculty pulled together in what felt like an insurmountable challenge of moving from blackboard-based instruction, which is largely how engineering is taught, to suddenly setting up whiteboards in homes and figuring out electronics and document camera systems in ways they had never been asked to do, said Sabrina Jedlicka, the college’s associate dean for academic affairs.

"Two words really come to mind when I have to describe the faculty response to shifting to remote learning. One is creativity. …But the other word that comes to mind that can't be overstressed is empathy—the degree of empathy that [faculty] showed for the students, for one another, for our senior leadership that was trying to navigate this situation. It was truly remarkable."

— Sabrina Jedlicka
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science

4 Days to transition from face-to-face meetings to remote classes
1,000 Number of classes to move online