Although Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) students have returned home for the remainder of the semester due to COVID-19, their learning has not stopped.
Douglas Daugherty, a professor and the dean of the School of Social & Behavioral Sciences & Business, said faculty and students have been flexible and persistent in the midst of uncertainty.
“Everyone is pulling together with acceptance, kindness and grace,” Daugherty said. “This is a very fluid situation with many unknowns for all of us.”
With the recent changes, Daugherty said the students are missing out on community worship in chapel and the usual opportunities for socializing.
“They’re missing the opportunities to connect with faculty, mentors and peers over coffee, as well as various scholarly activities, (such as) research, presentations and guest speakers,” Daugherty said. “To their credit, our students are remaining pretty engaged. They really want to continue their education.”
The students are looking for opportunities to connect in some manner, according to Daugherty, while experiencing sadness related to the changes, distancing and loss of athletics.
“It’s unsettling for everyone. But our students are resilient,” Daugherty said. “We are a resilient community that leans on the Lord in difficult times.”
Timothy Steenbergh, a psychology professor, said he is remaining aware of the difficulties students experience as they return home.
“Students are faced with the challenge of having to establish new rhythms as they reconnect with family back home and simultaneously manage the demands of their academic work,” Steenbergh said.
The campus environment was created to support learning, and as students return to their homes, Steenbergh said it is up to them to create a learning environment there.
“While this can be challenging, so far, it seems like students are doing well, and I’m seeing high levels of engagement in the learning activities we’re offering,” Steenbergh said. “What’s impressed me most during this time has been the creativity and grace exhibited by our students and faculty as they navigate these challenges together.”
Teachers have worked together to share resources and stay connected, Steenbergh said.
“One of our faculty members made a special trip into the office to teach another one how to use some of the newer technologies to engage students,” Steenbergh said. “Several faculty in our Division have been sharing creative ideas over email.”
Without students present in classrooms, Steenbergh said teachers are missing the facial cues and nonverbal communication.
“I’m used to watching the faces of my students and using that to gauge their understanding and interest,” Steenbergh said. “Those cues from the physical environment are absent or harder to access in a virtual encounter, so it’s requiring faculty and students to communicate more intentionally with the technologies we have.”
Rob Dawson, the dean of the division of Pre-licensure Nursing, is experiencing the recent changes from the perspective of a professor and a medical professional.
The spread of the coronavirus has impacted the nursing students’ ability to learn in the hospital and clinic setting.
“In nursing, the clinical facilities have blocked off students for the safety of the patients in the hospitals, and they are conserving masks and gowns. So we are doing lots of simulations.” Dawson said. “Nursing students have learned how to protect themselves, but also have a deeper understanding of the situation.”
Dawson said faculty and students have been creative and have teamed up together.
“It has been fun and exciting to see them explore new learning modalities,” Dawson said.
Although the students have been highly engaged, Dawson said they are experiencing high amounts of anxiety.
“They are curious about what the next steps are and how long this will last,” Dawson said. “Students are experiencing high levels of anxiety, similar to those we are all experiencing.”
Students in the music division experience unique challenges due to the nature of their classes.
Marc Wooldridge, professor of percussion and music theory at IWU, said that some of his students do not have the percussion instruments at home that they are learning to play.
Despite the difficulties, Wooldridge said his students are showing strong engagement and an excellent response to the changes.
Tammie Huntington, a voice and opera professor in the Division of Music, said her classes are meeting at their regular times for video conference calls, and her one-on-one voice lessons are taking place over Skype.
“So far, (Skype) seems to provide the best sound quality,” Huntington said. “There is nothing that can equal all being in the same room, with a live accompanist, working with the nuances of the voice in the same acoustics, and the instructor being able to coach them as they sing.”
The biggest differences Huntington has noticed are students wearing “comfy” clothes and their parents wandering in and out of the rooms.
“That’s different,” Huntington said. “I feel a bit like my teaching is suddenly under direct parental scrutiny, though it’s all been very friendly so far.”
Huntington said students have been very discouraged about having to leave their friends and professors in light of the faculty cuts announced in the fall.
Seniors especially are missing their senior recitals, final projects, plays and concerts.
“That’s really, really tough,” Huntington said.
Despite challenges and grievances, Huntington said students and faculty members are working hard.
“The IWU students are troopers,” Huntington said. “So far, I see them digging in and working hard to make the adjustments and do what is necessary, even amidst the disappointment of having to leave a community they love.”