Home School

What happens when students fan out over five time zones in a matter of days?

Despite the obstacles to teaching and learning while under COVID-19 quarantine orders, the Puget Sound faculty displayed agile and creative adaptability in the crisis. Some professors kept it old school, sending packages of tools and coursework to students’ homes; others went digital, using platforms such as Google Jamboard and Slack. Most courses used one video platform or another, including the campus’s learning management system, Canvas. Here are just a few examples of ways that faculty members adapted. 

GQS 201 
Introduction to Gender, Queer, and Feminist Studies 

Visiting assistant professor and interim head of gender and queer studies Heather White uses the Google product Jamboard for class discussions. “It’s like a virtual version of a mood board,” she says. Students watched a short video on the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the U.S., and White posted questions using Jamboard’s “sticky notes.” “The students answered the questions with their own sticky notes,” she says. “They can see what the others are working on— it helps provide that missing visual dimension.”

“On the first day of remote teaching, I had students looking at materials on black activism and leadership at the university. They wrote questions in Google Docs, and I was in the same file, answering them. They were just as engaged with the material as they are in person. That was very exciting.” 


—Adriana Flores ’13, archivist and special collections librarian

COMM 381 
Communication and the Internet

One of the things that Nicholas Brody, associate professor of communication studies, misses most about face-to-face teaching is knowing whether his cheesy jokes land. Online, his students’ mics are turned off so he can’t hear them while he’s speaking, but a plug-in for his browser that displays everyone’s video on a single screen has saved the day. “For the first time, I could see some smiles and some nonverbal feedback, the nodding along to my lectures and taking notes,” Brody says. “That makes a huge difference for me as an instructor.”

MUS 222 
Music of the World’s Peoples 

Instead of a planned outdoor concert, 28 students sent their own tracks of the calypso tune “Jump in the Line” to Affiliate Faculty Matthew DelCiampo, who mixed and mastered them into a single piece. Students in the course, taught by Assistant Professor Ameera Nimjee, contributed a ragtag assembly of instruments, many based on what they owned or could make at home. Among them: bassoon, ukulele, autoharp, stock pots and frying pans (substituting for the iron—a major percussion instrument in the Trinidadian steel pan orchestra), cutlery or metal rods (to bang on the frying pans), and homemade shakers (cans of dried beans, rice, or ball bearings). 


Watch a video of the “Jump in the Line” performance.

“Our seniors always look forward to senior dinner night at a faculty member’s house, so this year I invited them to a virtual social. To make it memorable for those who registered, we secretly ordered a pizza to be delivered to each one.” 


—Robin Jacobson, professor and chair, politics and government 

MUS 111–462 
Applied Violin Lessons 

Professor of Music Maria Sampen teaches 22 individual lessons each week. When in-person lessons became impossible, she devised a workaround: “I have students prerecord their solo pieces on their cellphones. They post them to an unlisted YouTube account. During the lesson, the student and I watch the performance together, make notes on what needs improvement, and then workshop specific spots. I actually see a lot of improvement because of this self-analysis.”

ARTS 282 
Beginning Printmaking 

Janet Marcavage, professor of art, made a video to show her students how to do a stencil technique called pochoir. Then she sent them good paper, brushes, X-ACTO blades, and gouache in cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The project? An 11" x 14" pochoir print about how COVID-19 has amplified a social concern. Students researched, then produced prints on, homelessness, economic disparity, relationships, racism, and mental health. 

BIOL 111 
Unity of Life: Cells, Molecules, and Systems 

Could certain chemicals in everyday products treat bacterial infections? Assistant Professor of Biology Oscar Sosa had his students test components in red wine, manuka honey, and peppermint and lemon oils to see if any of them could kill bacteria. Once COVID-19 limited the lab work, Sosa took the course’s focus on scientific writing and cranked it up several notches. Says Sosa, “I spent a lot of time giving students very detailed feedback on the conventions of a journal article, from adhering to structure and scientific nomenclature to reviewing related articles and drawing cautious conclusions.” 

"My students have been the joy of all this. I usually have 99% attendance in my three virtual classes, and they come prepared.” 


—Wind Woods, assistant professor, theatre arts 

HYS 299 
The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy 

When it became clear that campus was about to close, physics professor James Evans made up packets of lab materials to send home to students. “One of the more unusual things I sent is the Ptolemaic slats, or a planetary calculator. It’s a paper device with moving parts that we use to study ancient Greek planetary theory,” Evans says. For example, setting the moving parts at particular angles allows a student to plot points to show the movement of Mars. “When they get good enough, they can figure out where the planet was on any date, avoiding tons of trigonometry. And it’s kind of fun, as well.”


By Renee Olson
Illustrations by Laura Carlin
Published May 25, 2020