Ready for you at TU: What hybrid classes will look like

By Rebecca Kirkman, Cody Boteler & Kyle Hobstetter on August 7, 2020

An inside look at how the hybrid fall term will look across the campus community

Towson Tiger with a mask
Towson University is a "mask on" campus, one of many steps being taken to prepare the community for the fall term.

What is the strength of my course? How can I best translate that to remote instruction? What innovations can I make to my teaching methods or technology use?

Faculty members are making these decisions across Towson University’s colleges, balancing the benefits of face-to-face interaction with the safety measures required because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The fall term begins Aug. 24 with hybrid course delivery, allowing for fully remote learning as well as a combination of in-person and remote learning. Approximately 85% of instruction will be delivered remotely.

“Faculty have done an incredible job this summer to convert classes to either a remote teaching or hybrid option,” says TU Provost Melanie Perreault. “For hybrid classes, there will be some face-to-face element, but students will also have the ability to take classes remotely.

“The staff of OTS have been working hard to install technology in classrooms throughout campus that will allow face-to-face courses to be delivered simultaneously online,” she says. “We are confident that all courses, regardless of delivery modality, will be of the highest academic quality.”

College of Liberal Arts
The heart of John Skinner’s criminal justice course is dialogue. The lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminal Justice opted for the hybrid model to foster as many lively discussions as possible.

Skinner plans to break his classes into two groups, alternating between attending lectures in person and synchronously via Webex.

All supplemental readings, assignments and exams will be completed outside of class time and submitted through Blackboard, says Skinner, who is also coordinator of the criminal justice program at TU in Northeastern Maryland (TUNE).

“My strength and the strength of the classes are the in-class dialogues where students can have an open discussion about really important issues in the criminal justice system,” he says. “Most of my students are really anxious to get back in the classroom.”

College of Fine Arts & Communication (COFAC)
Faculty and staff have put their creativity to work planning hybrid solutions for coursework that traditionally relies heavily on in-person instruction.

Department of Music chair Phillip Collister has closely followed the latest research about how musicians can safely practice face to face.

The department plans to bring small groups of students together using extreme physical distancing and innovative new personal protective equipment (PPE) specifically for musicians.

The masks for instrumentalists have a special slit for a mouthpiece while still covering the musicians’ noses and mouths. Masks for singers have a duck-like bill protruding from the mouth several inches, allowing the lips and chin to move freely.

“We’re also going to be purchasing covers for instruments with a bell, like a trumpet or trombone, which helps to mitigate the air that comes out of the bell,” he adds.

Collister adapted his vocal pedagogy class to the hybrid model this summer using resources available through FACET as well as a seminar from the Peabody Institute. “I’ve taken components I usually use and rethought them in terms of how students engage with that activity,” Collister says. “In the FACET workshop, they suggested you have students do creative activities that engage their senses on more than one level.”

This fall, he has added a project where students will create a working model of some part of the voice anatomy using common household products.

A faculty survey in late July indicated about 60% of music classes would be delivered in a hybrid format, Collister adds. “COFAC has one of the highest numbers university-wide of faculty who want to teach in the hybrid fashion,” he adds. “That speaks to the fact that in COFAC so much of what we do is hands-on, face-to-face creative activity. We’re committed to making that happen for those that are able.”

College of Business & Economics (CBE)
Most of CBE’s remote courses will be taught synchronously, says Sabrina Viscomi, assistant dean of budgets, students and operations. That way, those who choose remote learning get the benefit of learning material at the same time.

CBE has also decided to use only its largest classrooms in Stephens Hall for maximum physical distancing during in-person instruction. Like other colleges, CBE faculty members are splitting their hybrid courses so students rotate between in-person instruction and synchronous remote learning.

“I’m so impressed and, really, indebted to our faculty and staff for working so hard this summer to prepare for the fall and meet the students where they are,” Viscomi says.

Jess & Mildred Fisher College of Science & Mathematics (FCSM)
Laura Gough, chair of the Department of Biology, says the faculty has been thinking about how best to facilitate face-to-face interaction with first-year, first-year transfer and last-term senior students.

Those are the students, she says, who are most often performing hands-on lab work. While lecture components have largely moved online, the department is staggering lab activities and field work throughout the week—and the term—to maintain low density on campus.

“The faculty, we got into this job because we love teaching,” Gough says. “We’ve been really focusing on how to help instructors engage with students and how to help students engage with each other and build that community that we know is so critical for student success.”

College of Health Professions (CHP)
The Department of Nursing has set up outdoor tents where students can practice skills like inserting catheters, and students who might normally work in groups will instead work with partners—while wearing full PPE.

“This is the nature of nursing. This is what we do; we deal with infectious disease all the time,” says department chair Hayley Mark. “This is a bit of an unusual circumstance, but it’s the nature of the work.”

CHP Dean Lisa Plowfield says the entire college has significantly decreased the density of its classrooms, including moving large lectures to a converted Burdick Hall gym that has space for 84 physically distanced students.

Plowfield estimates that less than 30% of CHP classes will feature in-person instruction.

“If we can do it remote, we’re doing it remote,” she says.

Much of CHP instruction takes place in clinical placements at hospitals and other health care facilities in the area. Plowfield says the college is working hard to make sure students are able to safely participate in clinical learning opportunities.

Part of that work has been collaborating with the Office of Public Safety to get students outfitted with PPE, Plowfield says, to remove that burden from the clinical sites where students will be working in the coming term.

“We had never partnered quite in that way before,” Plowfield says. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the faculty and staff put in as many hours as I have witnessed this summer. Everyone is vested in the education of our students, and that’s a great feeling.”