By Quinn Heinbaugh

With week one of remote classes completed, Principia faculty and students are starting to adjust to this semester’s new norm of classes conducted online through Zoom, Google Classroom, and other platforms. Though attending class in pajamas may be amusing the first couple of times, students soon realize that Spring 2020 will not feel like a regular semester again.

More than 225 classes went online, says dean of academics Meggan Madden.

“Certainly we’re learning where there are some gaps in technical capacities or support… and so we’re hearing of that just on a piecemeal basis either from students or from faculty themselves. But we’re not hearing a lot of need, so I think for the first week it’s definitely been a great start and something that we’re really pleased about,” she says.

After much anticipation, freshman Madi Leslie felt deflated when she learned that the biology department’s camping trip was cancelled.

“After hearing we couldn’t go the Great Smokey Mountains, I was really disappointed,” Leslie explains. “I was really looking forward to this trip.”

The data the class planned to collect on the trip would have been used in their research papers. They will now have to rely on data collected by previous students.

Sophomore Rhyan du Peloux had a similar reaction when he was informed that his social science research project would be cancelled. With much of the early stages complete, du Peloux’s project, a semester-long undertaking as part of a class on research methods, was looking very promising but won’t come to fruition.

“I was disappointed because I knew I wouldn’t have the opportunity to tackle a topic that interested me a lot,” he says.

Despite the cancelled project, the class will continue exploring research methods similar to those used in du Peloux’s project.

Despite these letdowns, Leslie and du Peloux are both adapting well to their new learning situations. “My teachers are very enthusiastic and put a lot of effort into keeping us captivated,” says du Peloux.

“I really appreciate how dynamic professors have been,” Leslie praises. “You can tell that they are putting time and thought into what we’re doing.”

Both instructors and students have made the transition online harmonious, and she is feeling optimistic about the rest of the semester, Leslie adds.

While students figure out how to complete their required work from a distance, faculty have been learning about and evolving to new digital mediums. After spending the previous week learning all forms of internet meeting platforms, meticulously rearranging their syllabi, and purging projects and assignments deemed unrealistic under the current circumstances, professors look for new ways to teach the required curriculum.

Professors with the most experience with remote learning platforms have stepped up to help guide the faculty. Faculty senate president Colleen Vucinovich says she is proud of how staff have risen to the occasion. “It’s been a really collaborative experience,” she says. “I feel very privileged to be a part of this community.”

In one example, business professor Peter Tosto used his extensive experience with Zoom to help colleagues.

After a week, faculty have started to get the hang of this new teaching medium. Classes that rely on physical presence are creating unique solutions or assessing potential changes to curriculum. This is the challenge that creative arts/communication division head John O’Hagan and assistant professor of dance Erin Lane have been facing the last two weeks. Though the situation might sound unfortunate, the theater and dance department has optimistically unearthed new opportunities. (See the performance schedule here.)

“While it is far from ideal, I have been really pleased and inspired by how inventive and dedicated both the faculty and students have been,” O’Hagan says. “All of the faculty and students in the classes keep exploring how to do performance related work in new, and sometimes interesting, spaces.”

Professors have been making as few changes to classes as possible. Both theater and dance classes do thorough warm-ups, as they would on campus. Theater students continue to participate in acting and directing activities. Dance classes focus on movement.

“Dance classes are doing lots of improv, conditioning, standing center work, and being led through individual somatic practices,” Lane explains. The department is staying positive and motivated, she adds. “We all really enjoy seeing each other when we come together and appreciate our continued classroom.”

With both Dance Prod 2020, “Wild Goose Circus,” and One Acts all planning “socially distant” showcases in mid-to-late April, theatre and dance students have active projects they are working on.

Both Lane and O’Hagan are looking forward to the opportunity for students to be creative while gaining the new skills needed for a video performance, they said.

Featured photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash.