Innovative teaching and learning during a pandemic

Customized masks for musicians, combined in-person and remote student groups, outdoor classes, physical distancing, individual materials, smaller classes, additional ensembles, and multimedia engagement — along with frequent disinfecting — are making the fall semester not only possible on campus but dynamic and creative.

Faculty are committed to high-quality teaching and continue to innovate to provide engaging and safe learning experiences for students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are more than a dozen examples.

In-person dance energy

“Being in the same room dancing, even though we can’t be close, is a treat. Feeling each other’s energy allows us new ways to communicate dancing together,” says dance instructor Fidel Orrillo Puga. “I am always very aware of the distance between me and the dancers. Classes are always taught with masks on (students, piano player, and teacher), and we always clean the space before class and at the end.”

In addition to the dance studio in George Hall, dance classes are using the Callahan Theater stage on campus, outfitted with mirrors and barres. “We have the mirrors to look at, but we can turn around at any moment and simulate performing for an audience," says Dereck Atwater '22, a musical theatre major and dance minor. "My favorite part about having class in Callahan is being able to use the space and spread out as if we are actually performing while feeling safe.”

Videos: Dance performances »

Dance Classes

    Band and orchestra

    Special masks — including for the instruments — as well as smaller ensembles and music-specific safety guidelines in the School of Music are enabling musicians to create music together safely. Story: Masks Don't Stop the Music


    Small-group marketing work

    School of Business and Leadership Professor Bryan Adams' content marketing class students worked in small groups — spaced apart in the classroom — and had their laptops open using Zoom breakout rooms to both include some students participating remotely and be able to share their screen, as they created a content marketing calendar together.

    Technology Changes in the School of Business

      Short Story into Film — Outdoors

      Professor Ed Wiltse chose to teach several classes outdoors, including Short Story into Film (a seminar course for first-year students on short stories and their film adaptations). 

      "While we can do amazing things with online education these days, we also know how much our students appreciate in-person classroom experiences and the relationships they build there with each other and their professors,” said Wiltse, part of the English and Communications Department. “We also know that outdoor experiences, accompanied by masks and distancing, are safer in terms of COVID-19 transmission. So this semester I have worked with our amazing facilities staff at Nazareth to convert a picnic pavilion into an outdoor classroom, with tablet desks, a rolling chalkboard, and a bedsheet tacked to the pavilion wall as a projector screen. Outdoorsy students are helping their classmates learn how to stay warm as the temperatures drop, and we're working together to have a great semester despite (or even partly because of) these new challenges."

      • Dyllan Sarich ‘24 says the approach is working well. “I am learning so much! From short stories to movies relating to deep topics, all of the genres make me think a lot about the real world and how people are inspired to write and share their stories based off of their beliefs.” Dyllan, who also has indoor classes where students are spread out in classrooms, says, “Nature really is all around me” during class outdoors, including bees and butterflies and seeing how the light changes as the days go along.
      • Allison Evans ‘24 says she was “surprised by how relaxed I feel while working outside” with peers and her professor — and she has a winter jacket, heavy sweatpants and a hat ready for cooler days.

      Outdoor Class: Short Story into Film

        Individual, hands-on materials

        Instead of passing around her model of the molecule cyclohexane as in a typical year, Prof. Amber Charlebois avoided sharing materials by having her organic chemistry students each make their own model to hold and refer to.

        “I usually suggest it, but this time I assigned it. It keeps students involved in the discussion of cyclohexane because they can personally see how the bonds rotate to form the different confirmations. Once we make each confirmation, we discuss its stability. This is one of my favorite topics to teach because it is so visual and is a perfect application of the molecule model kits.” 

        — Amber Charlebois, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry

        chem class
        chem class

        In-person biology

        Professor Qiang Lou is teaching biology and biomedical science courses — such as this cancer biology class — in person, just as in a typical semester. “I am very touched by the high learning spirits of these students, who come on time in the early morning and put great effort into learning and doing well in the classroom and on exams and quizzes. I appreciate their passion to learn and to prepare themselves for changing the world!"

        biology class
        biology class

        Hands-on physical therapy

        Clinical courses include in-person, online, and hands-on lab sessions. Students are in the lab learning and practicing the hands-on skills they need to work with patients of all ages, with consistent lab partners and feedback from instructors. Students are also learning valuable skills of providing clinical services via telehealth. DPT students are running Wellness Clinic sessions with many groups, including LifePrep students.

        Physical Therapy Classes

          Keeping students singing

          Special practice pods with high filtration, masks designed specifically for singers, app-based choral coaching programs, high-quality microphones and headsets, software that minimizes lag to support online voice lessons, and in-person smaller ensembles with wide spacing are among the innovations that are keeping students singing. Read the full singing story >

          outdoor choir

          Virtual class: live + video responses

          For an online class on British literature, Professor Greg Foran holds one or two live, whole-class video conferences for each unit and assigns flexibly-timed work. He’s using a platform where students can post short video responses, organized by topic — a “nice change of pace from the usual typewritten essay and allows me to see them critically analyzing the course texts in a less formal and more multimedia setting,” says Foran. Students also collaborate in writing online about topics, such as the parallels between the current coronavirus pandemic and the 1665 bubonic plague outbreak as described in Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year.

          Artists spread out across time and space

          Students overlap in the painting studio but arrive and leave at different times to keep the room capacity to no more than nine at a time. They have access to the studio all day.

          “In my painting class, students have always worked with their easels at a distance from each other. That way they can step back and see how their compositions are coming together. In the spacious studio, every student can see the work of the whole class as each of them pursues their own artistic vision.” — Professor Ron Netsky, director of the studio art program.

          Studio Art Class

            Live theatre

            • A summer internship with The Rev Theatre Company for seven Nazareth musical theatre majors included developing a story and characters from scratch and performing their whodunnit improvisational mystery outdoors with a priority on safety. “I loved how so much of it was a team effort, how every little thing you say and do changes how the audience will interact with the next person they talk to. It made me feel like I was part of something bigger,” said Caldwell Lowell ‘22. See the story: Live Theatre During a Pandemic
            outdoor theatre
            • Onstage: In fall 2020, with extensive safety protocols, Nazareth's theatre and dance students presented Chaplin: The Musical in Callahan Theatre, directed by Broadway veteran Valerie Wright along with department faculty and guest designers.


              Chaplin: The Musical, October 2020

              Sociology outside: personal & productive

              “My classes this semester are hybrids and I made the decision early on to take advantage of our beautiful campus and the lovely fall weather to meet outside as much as possible,” says Professor Kim McGann, chairperson in the Sociology & Anthropology Department. “My teaching style involves using my whole body and moving around a great deal to help explain concepts and how they relate to each other (which is particularly important when we are all wearing masks), which doesn't translate easily into online classes. The one thing I was missing was a board of some kind, because I base all my classes around a series of questions that students work through together with my help, and we capture the knowledge we're creating together on the board as we go. My husband (Naz alumni David Buisch '11, '14G) made me a portable white board with a stand that I can easily set up and take down after each class, so it doesn't get ruined by the weather. I've prepared online classes for the end of October and November if the weather turns cold, but I'm so glad to have almost two months of safe, engaging in-person classes to establish connections with my students that will make our online time together later this semester more personal and productive."

              outdoor class
              kim mcgann

              Hybrid speech-language courses

              Professor Susan Mack is using a hybrid format for her communication sciences and disorders classes — for students training to become speech-language pathologists. She holds in-person classes with half the students at a time, while the other half are working on reading and video assignments on their own. In a recent lesson about professionalism (shown in photos), she used the in-person time to have students demonstrate professional and unprofessional approaches — like putting your feet on the desk. “They were laughing. It takes a lot to get freshmen to laugh at 8:30 on a Monday morning,” she says. The way her students show up and engage with the classes show her that they understand being professional. Students have been supportive through all the adjustments. “I feel like, with the students, we’re all a team, in this together,” says Mack. “Even with masks and fogged glasses, it is possible to create an engaging, lively and rich learning environment.”

              During her live, online sessions, when a technology glitch has occasionally occurred, she referred to it as a learning opportunity for students that represents the many unpredictable moments in a career: “Anything can happen to you and you can recover.”

              socially distanced indoor classroom
              students with masks