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Virtual innovation

Virtual innovation

Shannon Shelton Miller May 05, 2020

When the University canceled in-person instruction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty across disciplines used creativity and ingenuity to quickly convert courses designed for classroom delivery to an entirely virtual format.

Energy in motion

Amy Jones Gibbons, an instructor in the theatre, dance and performance technology program and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company artist in residence, holds weekly online classes that include a learned warmup, cardiovascular exercise, technical studies and choreography studies. Students also complete workshops with choreography prompts that challenge them to create movement in spaces different from the dance studio, a task that prepares them for their final solo projects due at the end of the semester. 

Images on a computer screen of dance students warming up.“The most difficult part of online dance instruction is not having the energy of the moving bodies in the classroom,”  Gibbons said. ”It’s been a challenge, but we are finding ways to still connect, create and learn in a very different environment.”

That feeling isn’t limited to performance-based courses. Like many professors, Neil Florek has been teaching his philosophy classes in an asynchronous manner with students living in different time zones. He still delivers his lectures like he would in person, taking frequent pauses to tell students to write down key points. Sometimes he integrates unexpected elements like introducing a prop or asking students to sing a song “with” him to keep the energy flowing.

“All of these measures are meant to humanize distance learning and provide relief from what could otherwise be a steady flow of dense information,” Florek said. “With every new lecture recording, I strive to add a new dimension or improve one that has already proven effective.”

On its head

Vince Lewis, director of L. William Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and Fifth Third Bank entrepreneur-in-residence, shifted the focus of his yearlong micro-company classes to studying “black swan” or unpredictable outlying events that have significant impact on business operations.

Students on a screen in a virtual classroom“This is something business owners don’t always plan for but it’s what we need to do,” Lewis said. “While this one is unprecedented, it’s good for them to understand that as an entrepreneur and business owner, these incidents will happen.”

Some students in the micro-company classes have adjusted by moving their operations entirely online as large national retailers have done. And they’ve performed reasonably well: The 11 micro-businesses have generated $73,000 in sales and $16,000 in profits, and just three will lose money. The classes have always donated half their profits to charities, and one team this year will contribute all its online sales.

Seniors in Lewis’ capstone course, who planned to spend the semester consulting with local businesses planning expansion projects, have also changed the nature of their work.

“That paradigm of expansion has been turned on its head,” Lewis said. “This period teaches students that catastrophic planning is important. You can’t do this project as ‘business as usual.’ We’re in a completely different environment.”

Rising voices

Music professor Steven Hankle, who directs the University Chorale and women’s choir Bella Voce, wanted to share his students’ voices with the UD community despite the cancellation of April’s live concerts.

He found inspiration from an idea he first saw 10 years ago. Grammy-winning composer Eric Whitacre created a virtual choir video, and Hankle decided to adopt the idea. Each student plays a part by creating an audio track and layering it with other members in the ensemble by using an online software program like Audacity or Apple’s GarageBand. Hankle instructed each student to record his or her voice at home, then lay the voice tracks during their regularly scheduled class meeting time. Doing this during class time was a necessity since the students had to line up their recordings to mimic the sound of a choir.

“We wanted to produce one or two songs for the UD community to help uplift their spirits and give the students something to share with their families,” Hankle said. “We hope this can provide a service to the community.”


Professors in the GEMnasium, which serves as a transdisciplinary incubator for social innovation, said their students remain committed to the process of answering the 2019-20 academic year’s grand challenge: “How will you advance democratic practices that ensure human agency and equitable opportunity from where you are?” 

Students in religious studies professor Jana Bennett’s classes have been attending the COVID-19 and the Common Good virtual teach-ins and IACT live Facebook events. Her students will present some creative assignments at semester's end and some will deliver their work at the virtual GEMnasium Summit Slam in May. 

Health and sport science professor Jon Linderman, who’s teaching a capstone course on controversies in sport science, said his students are also planning a virtual delivery of their final projects on health care advocacy for athletes.

“A lot of seniors at this point might have said ‘we’re done,’” Linderman said. “But they said they wanted to continue to try to work within the IACT model and produce something meaningful from this.”

In Bennett’s health care ethics class, students are using online forums to discuss the intersections of poverty, race and class within the COVID-19 paradigm. While they can’t visit local health care facilities as initially planned, Bennett said she’s seen a strong interest among her students in adapting course discussion topics to COVID-19.

“These are the kinds of questions they’ll need to grapple with — inequities in health care and the intersections of poverty, medicine and health care resources,” Bennett said. “There’s been meaningful engagement and the students want to have these conversations.”


Kehler Welland, a costumer and lecturer in the theater, dance and performance technology program, had her students share their costume design creations through the gallery feature on Isidore for classmates to evaluate. Students used online images and photos to create inspirational collages and then also shared their own hand-drawn costume designs in the galleries. 

Some other professors say they’ve discovered unexpected benefits to online instruction they plan to retain when in-person instruction resumes. Computer science professor Saverio Perugini raved about the ability to deliver exams and create discussion forums through Isidore and the ability to teach from anywhere through conferencing tools like Zoom.

“It’s forced us to learn Isidore,” Perugini said. “We’ve often been resistant because we have our own way of doing things, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with its capabilities. It can be hard to take the time to learn these new technologies while we’re so busy with our teaching, research and service, but there’s a great payoff.”

Student teachers adapt