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Perspective: FACULTY

OU faculty reflect on a year of upheaval due to pandemic

A man standing in a hallway, holding a folder.

Photo Credit: Robert Hall

icon of a calendarJune 24, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Patrick Dunn with Patti Georgevich

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Joanna Hernandez, DNP, RN, AGACNP-BC, SON ‘12, says she was exhausted from working in Detroit’s Ascension St. John Hospital ER during the first wave of COVID-19 last spring. During that wave, the assistant professor in Oakland University’s School of Nursing adapted her Accelerated Second Degree (ASD) in Nursing classes to remote learning due to the pandemic. But, she says she valued the opportunity to share first-hand knowledge of the pandemic with her students while also making their online learning experience the best it could be. 

“I think I truly have the best of both worlds,” says Dr. Hernandez, who teaches ASD courses at the OU Anton/Frankel Center in Mount Clemens. 

The Clinton Township resident’s experience is emblematic of the heroic effort OU faculty have put into helping students have the best possible academic experiences despite the challenging circumstances of the pandemic. Faculty made an extremely rapid pivot when
OU announced on March 11 all classes would be moving to remote learning beginning on March 16.

Michelle Piskulich, M.A., Ph.D., OU’s senior associate provost at OU, says it was a big shift for faculty.

“People don’t understand how difficult it is to create a quality online course,” Dr. Piskulich says. “It’s not just putting together some PowerPoint slides. You really have to think through every aspect of your course.”

Dr. Piskulich explains the change did bring some technical challenges. First, classes shifted to Webex and Google Meet. Webex was difficult for students and faculty to navigate and only a few students could be seen at the same time. While Google Meet was easier to use and allowed more students to be seen, it didn’t allow for breakout rooms. With demand for a more accessible platform providing breakout rooms and more students visible on screen, Dr. Piskulich says OU acquired Zoom.

“I don’t mind if my students are in their pajamas. I don’t mind if they’re in bed. I don’t mind if they haven’t done their hair,” Dr. Hernandez says. “I don’t mind anything at all as long as I can see their faces so I can gauge whether they’re understanding or not — and Zoom’s been immensely helpful for that.”

Lindson Feun, Ph.D., who teaches four research courses in OU’s Education Specialist in Leadership post-master’s degree program, had taught on Webex before as well as teaching his in-person classes at the Macomb University Center in Clinton Township. But, the Waterford resident says using Zoom for the first time was a challenge. OU provided resources to all faculty on how to use online platforms, but Dr. Feun says there were still “intricacies” he had to pick up on the fly.

“Fortunately, my students were knowledgeable enough to provide me with assistance,” he says.

Faculty found new ways of interacting with students throughout the pandemic. Unable to give on-the-spot feedback on papers as he would during his in-person classes, Dr. Feun found himself corresponding via email with students much more. Despite the paradigm shift, he says he’s happy to provide students with a more flexible experience.

“One student was folding laundry for her kids while we were talking online,” he says. “She was able to multitask. That’s one advantage.”

Dr. Hernandez says her biggest concern throughout the pandemic has been her students’ mental health. She says she’s offered them “virtual hugs” via Zoom, in addition to referring many of them to counseling services at the Graham Health Center.

“They know they can come to me,” she says. “I’m like, ‘It’s okay if you’re going to cry. Grab a tissue. I’m here for you. What do you need from me?’”

Dr. Piskulich says she’s been “so impressed” by OU faculty members’ concerns for their students throughout the pandemic, and the degree to which they’ve embraced a year of upheaval.

“The OU community pulled together and did the hard work of collaboration to make certain we were making good decisions,” she says. “There’s been a lot of learning, not just by the students and their classes, but by all of us trying to navigate this situation. We’re all learners this year.”

Learn more about OU’s bachelor’s and master’s degree programs offered at our locations in Clinton Township and Mount Clemens.

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