By Jeff Willadsen, Global Campus Senior Writer
In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Washington State University has made the decision to protect students and faculty by moving all on-campus courses online for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. As WSU makes this historic transition, one faculty member is offering her unique voice as a resource to fellow instructors.
A clinical associate professor at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, Rebecca Cooney has been an instructor at WSU’s Pullman campus since 2012. She’s been teaching fully online courses through WSU Global Campus for six years and was awarded the Oaks Academic Technology Award in 2019 for her innovative use of technology tools in an academic setting.
“I believe that online learning and 100% online programs are a wonderful resource for students who live far away from physical campuses, or have work schedules and family lives that would not allow them to go to in-person classes,” said Cooney, who also acts as director of Murrow’s fully online degree programs. “I’ve also found online technology tools to be invaluable for instructing students both on campus and online.”
Over her years as a Murrow instructor, Cooney developed a professional website and blog. Creating online assets like these is a common assignment for many communication students at Murrow, and she wanted to provide a good example for her students. Little did she know that the blog would soon become a valuable communication tool for reaching fellow faculty members as well.
Early on the week of March 2, 2020, Cooney began to take notice of news that the upcoming impacts of COVID-19 on the daily lives of Cougs were becoming real. Both students and faculty were talking about it. The seriousness of the pandemic also hit close to home, as it started to affect her two high school-age sons and their plans to attend events for school.
“I woke up early on the morning of March 7th because I felt compelled to write a piece I called ‘We will be O-K if we go on-line: One WSU faculty member’s perspective,’” she said. “At the time, such a sentiment was still the elephant in the room, a taboo topic few were willing to fully discuss or embrace. So I wrote what I felt and shared my insights on what I thought it would mean for both faculty and students.”
Cooney’s thoughts ultimately proved timely. At the time she wrote that first post, she was teaching two undergraduate in-person courses and two online graduate courses. By March 13th, all her Spring 2020 courses where switched to a fully online format due to the WSU’s COVID-19 response effort.
Along with hundreds of instructors across the WSU system, Cooney began working exclusively from home. This only increased her desire to use her voice to help the WSU community through the transition.
“I set a personal goal to write three to five posts per week with additional quick tips and resources that are relevant to online teaching and learning,” she said.
Since her first COVID related post, Cooney has established a dedicated microblog entitled “Online Teaching Tips.” She chose to focus on practical tips and tools to benefit faculty members as they transition to fully online learning.
“I took this step, in part, because I have been the Director of Murrow Online Programs for the past six years and thought I could add value with my perspective and experience ‘in the trenches’ of online course design and delivery,” she said. “I also have a fair amount of experience with Blackboard, Panopto, and Zoom, and I knew these tools would be critical during this process.”
According to Cooney, she’s seen an unprecedented amount of engagement on her blog over the last few weeks. Normally, her posts would receive around 25 to 50 views per day. After WSU President Kirk Schulz commented on one of her posts, views surpassed 1,300 in one day.
“The feedback has been really positive overall,” said Cooney. “People seem to be appreciative of the practical tips and tools and the sharing of resources.”
Along with practical advice, Cooney also aims to bring the Cougar community together as they share in this unprecedented experience.
“It is a time of overwhelm, so I am also trying to insert a level of humor and real-world, humbling experiences that peer faculty can relate to,” said Cooney. “People seem to be enjoying my slightly self-deprecating style and willingness to be honest and upbeat.”
Titles of Cooney’s blog posts include: “Accepting a new normal: 6 tips for teaching from home,” “Day 1 reflections & adjustments: Lessons in adapting in real-time,” “Meet the ‘meh’ student & 5 things to know about those who are not used to taking online classes :)” and “Day 2: My head is exploding. Does it show?”.
After the initial transition to online courses on March 23, Cooney says she has been seeing positive responses from students, even amid the current uncertainty.
“Many students are scared, nervous, and uncertain about the times ahead. They miss their regular campus experience and want things to get back to normal,” she said. “Most students I see also feel very supported by their faculty and confident things will be OK. They are appreciative that instructors are adjusting, being kind, and are willing to hold live Zoom classes and virtual office hours.”
Cooney says that she is heartened to see the ongoing efforts and positivity of the WSU administration, faculty, staff, and students, and is eager to continue to work with them all as WSU moves past the pandemic and into the future.
“This whole experience has been a whirlwind on so many levels. I am happy I can provide a positive voice through all the noise. I believe we are One WSU and we will all get through this together. Go Cougs!”
Access all of Rebecca Cooney’s COVID-19 transition-related blog posts on her “Online Teaching Tips” microblog.