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Going Remote: A Pivot to Online Learning

Faculty moved with lightning speed when the pandemic hit.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Lehigh to move all its classes online in March 2020, faculty in the College of Business and across the university had to act with lightning speed to move their courses completely online following Spring Break.

Joseph Manzo, professor of practice in accounting, was at his son’s baseball practice when he got the news that Lehigh would be remote for the rest of the semester, rather than for only two weeks, as initially hoped: “And that’s when it hit me, I’m going to have to figure out what to do.” 

Manzo, who was teaching managerial accounting, had reached a point in the course where he was teaching budgets and working with students to set up excel spreadsheets. While that portion of the course would translate easily to online, he said, the rest of the semester would present more challenges.

“I try to provide a learn-by-doing experience,” he said. “I explain to the students, ‘My class is like a cooking show. We’re all going to take out our ingredients, and we’re going to cook today.’  So I needed to move very quickly and figure out how I was going to get the students in that mode, where, when I start working, they start working.”

Teaching live over Zoom, Manzo utilized a SmartMarker system, which uses an infrared sensor to stream live notes from a whiteboard surface. The transition went so well that Manzo is using the system this fall as remote learning continues.

“We have been teaching online for years now, and we’re pretty good at it,” said College of Business Dean Georgette Chapman Phillips. “But that’s always been the side dish, not the main course. So what we need to recognize is that for the time being, this format is the core, the main course, and our student’s main college experience.”

In a faculty meeting in early May, there was a shared feeling that efforts had to go far beyond what was considered the standard for online learning pre-COVID-19. “We couldn't just say that whatever we were doing before is what we would do going forward,” Phillips said. “We must stop thinking about online education as something that we’re doing ‘for now.’” 

Working with Lehigh’s Library & Technology Services, the college offered a series of workshops for Lehigh Business faculty that included “Team Projects and Collaborative Assignments,” and “Exam Design and Grading in an Online Environment.” Manzo tutored faculty in how best to use technology, providing insight into what worked and what didn’t. Faculty also applied the lessons learned in the spring to the fall semester.

Manzo said many of his spring semester students had expressed appreciation. “Some of the best comments I got from students were they felt like they were back in the classroom.”

On the West Coast, the Startup Academy, a collaboration between the College of Business and Lehigh@NasdaqCenter, was able to transition quickly to a virtual internship program because of pre-planning, said Samantha Dewalt, the center’s managing director.

The Startup Academy offers students real-world experiences through internships with early- to mid-stage startups. Dewalt said all but one of the original host startup companies said “yes” to hosting interns virtually over the summer. That opened the door for another early-stage, all-remote startup to participate in the program.

Joshua Ehrig, professor of practice in management, facilitated the Startup Academy course remotely with guest lectures from entrepreneurial leaders in Silicon Valley.  

In all, 12 students interned with six startups, including atlasGO, ecomedes, Ethereum Classic Labs, Modsy, Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center and Second Time Founders. 

While the Startup Academy looks forward to returning in-person in summer 2021, Dewalt said, the transition to virtual was so successful that it spawned the creation of a new course launched in partnership with Lehigh Business for Fall 2020, the Silicon Valley Innovation Internship.

“The students got a real taste of what it’s like to work for a startup in a remote environment, which is a very common way of working for startups and innovative companies today,” Dewalt said. “They’re experiencing the future of work, and, I’m sure as we’ve all heard over the past several months, the future of work is now.”

Illustration by Paige Vickers

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

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