Lights! Camera! Cue the Squid ... and Instruction!

May 28, 2020

In mid-March, the spread of the Coronavirus threatened to change everything about Michaela Cox’s final semester at Tulsa Community College. With her in-person classes now a virtual online format, she worried they wouldn’t adapt, especially the lab work. Enter a resourceful instructor who incorporated humor and made learning engaging.

“I am accustomed to more one-on-one when it comes to learning and I work better with it. It was very stressful wondering about the switch to online. My anxiety level was super high,” says Cox.

Cox remembers her first virtual class for Zoology when the subject went beyond animals and behaviors, and her faculty member, Professor Brian Cross, gave the students a place to voice their concerns.

“We were able to get it out – all those worries that had been building and how the current situation was affecting us. It was really nice and a good feeling,” says Cox.

Although it was still a challenging course, she says the videos he produced of dissections in the lab, injected with humor, made the material easier to understand.

“One of the reasons I did the videos was to make the virtual sessions more interactive and engaging. I wanted students to watch, listen and absorb the content before jumping to the activity and answering questions,” says Cross.

With humorous introductions in a Masterpiece Theatre style, he did two dissection videos for squid and mussel.

“It was hard to keep my movie studio open since I had used our living room to film the intros. My entire family is in the video credits with my kids helping with the camera and my wife doing set design, from the animal head to the plaid blanket placement,” says Cross.

Three more dissection videos followed for starfish, shark and crawfish using his humor but not as elaborate.

“In labs, students gain so much by going through the process of touching and manipulating and observing firsthand. That experience is the value. And the subtlety of interaction with the students allows you to nudge them gently towards the discovery, letting them ask the questions they need to ask and arrive at the conclusion themselves,” says Cross.

With some time to plan, he’s looking to the Summer and Fall semesters and how to make his class more interactive. He’s not alone. More than 100 TCC faculty are spending the summer in workshops and design institutes using the latest strategies and best practices to develop an effective learning experience online, for even the most difficult of classes.

For Cross, he wants to reshoot some of the lab videos to improve the visual quality and he is looking at how to adapt academic content for the first half of the semester to a virtual format. Cross learned new editing and video skills this past semester and, like his students, is ready to learn more.

“I listened to my students and recognized this was a shared experience. So many were learning in a way they weren’t comfortable with or teaching in a new method of deliver. As faculty, I think we are always trying to meet people where they are and create a safe and supportive learning environment in which they can move forward. And that role has certainly been amplified by the pandemic,” says Cross.

Cox says she felt supported and safe despite the chaos of COVID-19. She knows Professor Cross put in a lot of work and effort into the videos and kept the class upbeat and laughing while learning. But she will forever be grateful to him for his humanity – empathy and understanding – during a very difficult semester.

View the squid video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvAOvXg5q3I