Innovative Teaching During COVID-19 Series: Howard Granok

The Center for Teaching and Learning is highlighting innovative work done by faculty at Washington University in St. Louis during the Spring 2020 semester at the height of the coronavirus pandemic as part of a new web series. Our latest Q&A features Howard Granok, PhD, Adjunct Instructor in Biology in University College.

How did you change your teaching to respond to the pandemic?

I basically turned it into a flipped classroom; lectures were recorded and posted on Canvas and our live class time was all dedicated to an annotation project that we had just started before spring break. I increased the length of the project from four weeks to six weeks, as well. Of course, the two remaining exams were open note, open book, so I also changed the nature of the exam questions to stress more critical thinking and application skills. I typically have these kinds of questions, but in this case they made up almost the entire exam.

What was the result of the changes, if any?

The live sessions worked as I’d intended, although the project proceeded a bit more slowly for the students. I had two TAs who are WashU undergraduates who were a great help during that time.

How did students respond to your teaching?

For the most part, very well. The quality of the projects were just as high as teaching in person. 19 out of 20 students stuck with the course and I think learned a lot.

What are you the most proud of?

Being able to keep the level of the class challenging but manageable.

What advice would you have for colleagues who need to adjust their teaching due to the pandemic/other unforeseen circumstances?

I think using the virtual class time for what is most critical and for what most demands your personal attention is important. I also provided a lot of different ways for students to interact with me. Not every student could make the live sessions, so this was important to keep them engaged. I also checked in with students who were ‘off the grid’ to see how they were doing and if they needed some extra help.