Faculty members at URI have adapted their teaching and curriculum to better support their students. Graphic by Elizabeth Wong.

During the pandemic, faculty in almost every college at the University of Rhode Island have had to adapt their courses to online learning and high-stress levels in order to better accommodate their students’ needs.

As students and faculty alike face more stress, many professors have implemented flexible deadlines and worked to cultivate strong communication in order to better serve their students.

Samantha Meenach, an associate professor of chemical engineering at URI, has found new ways to adapt her teaching style and her assignments to help students succeed in her courses.

In the fall semester, she teaches CHE 212: Chemical Process Calculations, and in the spring semester, she teaches CHE 272: Introduction to Chemical Engineering Calculations. She teaches CHE 272 as a continuation of CHE 212, with the same people in her class both semesters.

Between students wearing masks and distance learning, Meenach was unable to learn the names of everyone in her classes for the first time.

As engineering is a hands-on major that requires lab work, teaching assistants and lab workers have had to adapt their curriculum as well. Last spring, when many students left for Spring Break and never returned, teachers’ assistants conducted experiments in the labs on campus and recorded the video of them completing it to provide students with similar sample data to use at home. 

Since then, the College of Engineering has found ways to safely get small groups back into the labs. According to Meenach, the current senior class is large, and since it is seniors that take lab components, working around the class’s size has been important. 

With these changes and the new class format, Meenach has changed the way she will teach in the future and how she views academia. 

“It’s made me think differently about how I want to assess and [have] assignments be centered around what students really need to be learning,” Meenach said. “But for final exams, what do you need to know? None of these kinds of fluff questions.” 

Meenach plans to give fewer assignments and said she will likely be more flexible with students doing remote learning from different parts of the country and the world.

David Byrd, a professor in the College of Education, has similarly found ways to help his students succeed in the online environment as they learn to become teaching professionals. 

Byrd teaches a course on the foundations of American education. In this course, he “engages students in important issues in education” by teaching them how to think about these issues and respond appropriately. 

His students complete two main projects for this course: an autobiography about how a certain issue shaped their education and a group research paper. One thing Byrd will take into his future courses will be using the Zoom breakout room feature to facilitate group project meetings. This proved to be more practical than having students coordinate their schedules to meet in person and on campus.

However, his biggest takeaways from the pandemic and online learning have been the importance of giving students time and feedback. 

“I make it especially important right now to get back to students,” Byrd said. “If I see something, I try to get back to them.” 

He has also been more flexible with his deadlines this year and has made sure to follow up with his students in class to see if they need support on specific assignments that they may be struggling with.

Education, according to Byrd, will adapt to the online classroom and likely continue to use many of the resources utilized during the pandemic.

Both Meenach and Byrd expect to be back in the classroom with students in the fall and are prepared to adopt the methods they’re discovered to support students.