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More Details on Fall Classrooms, Tech and Teaching

a teacher in a mask and gloves holding a tablet in front of a chalkboard

Multiple offices and people at Pitt have been working hard to create safer, tech-enabled classrooms and resources to help students and faculty succeed when classes begin on Aug. 19.

Throughout the summer, Pitt faculty and staff have been adapting courses for Flex@Pitt, an instructional model that accommodates in-person and remote students and instructors, and that’s designed to be adaptive to the latest and best medical and health information available on COVID-19.

For instance, Lorraine Denman, a senior lecturer and coordinator of the Italian Language Program, has tackled the pedagogical difficulty of teaching and managing a foreign language classroom while wearing a face covering.

“It adds a layer of complication to learning a new language when you can’t read lips or use full facial expressions to understand context clues,” Denman said. “The fact that Pitt isn’t requiring all faculty and instructors to be physically present in the classroom across the board gives us a very flexible opportunity. I’m grateful for that, as it’s not the case for much of higher ed.”

Space and tech

In terms of physical space, the Office of the University Registrar, together with the Office of the Provost, has identified places across campus that can support the Flex @ Pitt teaching model under all of Pitt’s operational postures.

Kaitlyn Figore, assistant registrar, noted “There are some creative spaces being used for classes,” such as the Connolly Ballroom in Alumni Hall, the University Club and the O’Hara Student Center ballrooms, so students and faculty can physically distance.

To get classrooms ready, Pitt IT and the University Center for Teaching and Learning have coordinated with the Office of Facilities Management to install hybrid classroom technology. Each learning space will include a video display, voice-tracking camera, audio/recording equipment and a Zoom Room touchpad used to join and control scheduled Zoom meetings. The technology may also integrate with existing audio-visual systems where available.

In terms of technology, Pitt IT has also made recommendations for laptops that are designed to meet student needs—but notes that students should follow their schools’ or programs’ specifications if they’ve issued any guidance.

Helping students succeed

Undergraduate academic coaches and tutors in Pitt’s Study Lab, part of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, have also been hard at work this summer creating new tools to help their peers have successful online classroom experiences.

Throughout the fall, all of Study Lab’s services will be delivered virtually so that “no matter what it looks like—whether it’s all online, partially in-person or changes over the course of the term—all these resources for peer tutoring and academic coaching and support are still available,” said Rebecca Farabaugh, a communications manager in the Dietrich School.

Study Lab has also expanded its Knowledge Drop, a library of short video tutorials created by Pitt students who have taken the classes themselves, and added two new workshops—one on strategies for success in online test taking and one on tips for staying motivated and disciplined in online courses.

Funding from the Forge Your Own Path grants out of the Office of the Provost helped support the creation of a new Online Time Management Calculator and new software for creating videos with hand-drawn animations

“The time management calculator allows you to plot out how many hours a week you’ll be sleeping, studying, participating in student clubs—everything to help students better plan and decide what they can or can’t take on,” said Farabaugh. “It’s really intended to be a holistic picture of their whole life.”

Two upcoming webinars in the first week of August will also review how to succeed in any learning environment, so that no matter what the semester brings, Pitt students and faculty are set up for success in the classroom and beyond.

Information for instructors

Instructors can visit the classroom scheduling webpage for information on the current list of rooms in use for fall, new seating capacities and audio-visual equipment available in the room.

The teaching center also suggests instructors get a jump start on using Canvas, the University’s new learning management system. Check out their upcoming workshops and events.

Finally, the center has launched two personalized consulting efforts. The first is a 30-minute consultation offered through the end of July to discuss pedagogical questions under the Flex @ Pitt model. Instructors can complete an online request form and select a time that will work for their schedule. A teaching consultant will then follow up to confirm the appointment. The second opportunity is a custom consultation on technology in the new classroom spaces from the teaching center’s Learning Space Development Team.