In addition to working with students to facilitate global learning—through the 360° course cluster program, departmental field studies, self-directed research opportunities, and study abroad—during the academic year, Bryn Mawr has several signature summer “global” opportunities that are administered by the College. While the coronavirus pandemic made in-person instruction impossible, several of the programs—thanks to the feverish work of faculty and staff—were able to hold successful virtual programs.
Below, Alice Lesnick, Associate Dean for Global Engagement, and program administrators Billie Jo Ember, Matthew Jameson, and Sabea Evans reflect on some of the challenges they faced and the lessons they learned.
What are some of the ways you adjusted your program to offer it remotely?
Billie Jo Ember, co-director of the Russian Language Institute
The program schedule included both synchronous and asynchronous activities to allow participants to comfortably manage the time spent on their individual learning goals. This balance proved successful as participants spent the required amount of time needed to move to the next level in their language acquisition, but didn’t overwhelm them with too much screen time. Also, all students met regularly with peer tutors. The additional time with tutors allowed students to not only ask specific questions that they may not have had a chance to ask in class, but also practice informal speaking with a peer.
Matthew Jameson, Ph.D. candidate and co-administrator (along with Lesnick) of the Arabic Language and Interdisciplinary Learning Program in Jordan
Early into the pandemic we realized that travel to Jordan was not going to be possible for the summer, so Alice Lesnick, Manar Darwish, and I, together with the faculty advisory group, worked closely with the director at Sijal (Katy Whiting) to transition the program online. The class schedule was largely the same with the day divided into classes devoted to Arabic learning (taught by Sijal faculty) and a content course on the archaeology of the Middle East (co-taught by myself and Assistant Professor of Archaeology Jennie Bradbury).
One of the major adjustments was around the cultural events planned for each week and the trips around Jordan visiting sites on the weekend. Sijal was able to move several of the cultural events online such as a movie night, a cooking expose, and calligraphy lessons. In the archaeology content course the weekend trips were substituted by using virtual reality tours of sites like Petra that allowed us to experience the built landscapes of the past from home.
Sabea Evans, Bi-Co fellow coordinator and research assistant , BiCo-Ghana Thinking Together/Lagim Tehi Tuma Action Research Fellowship
After news of the pandemic and consequential travel bans, LTT fellows, mentors, and leadership developed a virtual hybrid version of LTT in which fellows from the University for Development Studies in Tamale in Ghana interned in person and Bi-Co fellows participated remotely. The fellows were incredibly adaptive to this version of LTT, especially under the gravity of the pandemic and the most recently publicized uprisings against the ongoing violence against Black people in the U.S. (and globally).
Fellows, mentors, and LTT leadership collaborated synchronously and asynchronously to build the program each week, each person bringing invaluable additions to our handbook, resource booklet, topics for discussion, and our Dagbani learning materials. With the remarkable success of this hybrid virtual program, many new possibilities and formats for LTT have opened up!
Now that you've offered your program remotely, what are some of the lessons you learned? Was there anything that benefited from being remote? What were you just not able to replicate?
Ember: The RLI program administration discovered the importance of planning pre-program for sufficient time spent on course material development for a remote-only program. The program we organized in advance went better than expected for a first time experience. We learned that we cannot over plan for a program that typically is preferred to be an in-person experience, but we also understand that in-person intensive programs are a different experience that we cannot replicate fully.
One very noteworthy experience was this year’s cooking demonstration, which allowed students to prepare Russian dishes while following along with the presenter. One of the RLI instructors, Cori Anderson from Rutgers University, led two separate demonstrations that involved cooking Russian pelmeni and blini. In an in-person setting only so many participants are able to take part in a cooking demonstration due to the limited campus facilities.
The one vital piece of RLI we could not fully recreate is the field trip experience that we can offer in person. One guest lecture, which was given by a Russian-speaking representative from the Zimmerli Museum at Rutgers University, did come close to offering an experience that would have been offered as an excursion. The lecture took students on a virtual tour through the museum’s current special exhibition.
One final note, the RLI program has hosted a visiting instructor from Al-Farabi Kazakh National University for several years now. This summer was no different. Sandugash Sansyzbayeva not only taught a daily course, but also hosted a Russian writing workshop and gave a lecture in Russian on Kazakh culture and traditions.
Jameson: I can only speak to the content course since this was the aspect of student learning that I was most engaged with since I was one of the co-instructors. I learned that the breakout rooms in Zoom are really beneficial to starting dialogue in a class, and it relaxed the atmosphere and gave the students an opportunity to engage with the material on their own and kick around ideas before I joined in as an instructor. One of the benefits of being remote was learning to work flexibility into the daily schedule. Because students knew we were transitioning to online learning for the first time they were more willing to be flexible with the class schedule and how we approached the material. I thought this was a really great way to co-construct a course with faculty and student input. For example, Professor Bradbury and I developed a syllabus ahead of time that indicated the major topics and themes we wanted to tackle each class session, but because it was remote we were able to be flexible about the order in which we did things and take the students' interests into account. I think this is something that can be brought back into the physical classroom; it just took the experience of opening ourselves up to being flexible in an online learning environment to realize that.
The one thing that we were not able to completely replicate was the cultural immersion experience. As I mentioned, there were several ways we tried to work around that, through virtual cultural experiences and virtual site tours. While these are good substitutes given the circumstances, it is a different experience than being in a different country.
Lesnick: Speaking to the Arabic language learning dimension of the program, I am delighted that Sijal was able to place our students with instructors at their specific level, and that students were so motivated to continue their studies remotely. Professor Manar Darwish, coordinator of the Bi-Co Arabic program, has shared that the summer program is leading to enhanced enrollment in our Arabic sequence at the College, which is one of the program goals.
Evans: We often had to work around Zoom connectivity issues and time differences by using other forms of communication, like WhatsApp and Google Docs, and staying flexible between having activities be synchronous or asynchronous. Previously we’ve had sharing out of internship work and asked that students write up reflections following the program. This summer, every fellow presented an inquiry project and a report that reflected on both internship work and of the program as a whole to a larger audience of stakeholders and friends of LTT. The inquiry project presented a new opportunity for students to engage in personal research projects, many of which highlight the centrality and relevance of Blackness, Black Studies, and global Black liberation in its many forms and aspirations.
Once the pandemic is over, is there anything you did this year that you see yourself incorporating into future efforts?
Ember: Yes, the course materials and extracurricular activities developed for the remote program will provide a template for a remote program in the future. In fact, the course materials specifically are ones that we have been developing over time, but due to the pandemic we were forced to speed up the timeline to finish the materials for the 2020 summer program. A very successful addition to the remote program that we envision would transfer to an in-person program is the mandatory tutoring we offered this summer.
Jameson: Again, going back to what I mentioned earlier, I think not being afraid to be flexible in a classroom setting is something that I learned as an instructor through this experience. Sometimes I think we get locked into a routine of spelling out every detail in a syllabus and moving online is a freeing experience because both students and instructors know they have to be open to change. I also think moving the cultural events and lectures (there were several brown bag lectures put on by Sijal throughout the summer) online both opened them up to a wider audience and allowed us to cover a wider range of topics because we could invite people in who were not physically situated in Amman. I hope something that we all take away from this online learning experience is that online lectures are a good substitute and if the information or topic is worth teaching/discussing, there are ways to make that happen remotely even in a post-COVID world.
Evans: We have submitted a course proposal using this summer as a model for virtual engagement and are developing plans for programming next summer that include virtual portions in every option.
These program leaders are continuing to take forward lessons learned from the summer into the College’s global learning enterprise this year as Bryn Mawr continues to steward partnerships that support students in transformative learning. For those interested in these or other international programs on the horizon, please visit brynmawr.edu/global.