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In just four weeks, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh fall semester begins as the pandemic continues across the world. We’re sharing updates over the next few weeks from the deans of the colleges about what students and their families can expect. They also are letting us know about the latest programs and any new faculty and staff joining UW Oshkosh for the 2020-21 academic year.

This segment of Titans Return comes from Kimberly Rivers, the newly appointed interim dean of the College of Letters and Science (COLS).

Kimberly Rivers

What did faculty members and staff in your college learn about teaching online this past spring that may inform how hybrid or online classes will be conducted in the fall?
Faculty and staff gained a great deal of experience from the lightning-fast transition to remote instruction last spring. One thing they learned is too many digital platforms can make it harder for students to stay on top of their work. That’s why one department adopted Collaborate Ultra as their online meeting platform in every course, rather than allow a plethora of options that may work well but leave students confused about what app a course is using. Many departments in the college will conduct online courses synchronously, meaning that instructors will hold online classes at the regular times published on TitanWeb. This helps students construct a consistent schedule and have regular interaction with faculty and other students, something many students said they missed last spring.

How are faculty members in your college preparing for the fall semester.
Faculty are rethinking the best way to deliver their classes based on their experiences last spring and on a wide array of training courses offered this summer by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CETL). For faculty teaching face-to-face, the challenge is to deliver high-quality course accommodations to students who need to follow online. Meanwhile, for faculty teaching online, the challenge is to transfer the learning outcomes and personal encounters between students and faculty to an online environment. The CETL courses not only help instructors construct their course in Canvas, but they also give pointers on how faculty can include all students in the discussions and activities and develop a sense of community online.

Because we have such a talented faculty who are dedicated to teaching, I am confident the outcomes will be effective, but it’s a lot of new skills to master over the summer. In addition, many faculty have served on the Recovery Task Force and Implementation Teams that will allow all three UWO campuses to open again in the fall. Their work has been invaluable to the community but quite time consuming. Finally, faculty also have ongoing research projects that were difficult to pursue during the spring. For many this has been an exceptionally busy summer, over which hover anxieties about how the spread of COVID-19 will affect the plans we are making now.

What’s new in your college for fall 2020?
We are very pleased to welcome a new director of Hmong studies, Mai See Thao. The Hmong Studies program is just getting started, and Thao will be constructing a curriculum for the program, as well as teaching courses in anthropology.

  • Other interdisciplinary programs also have new or recently hired directors, including  Ursula Klein for Women’s and Gender Studies, Angela Subulwa in International Studies, and Alphonso Simpson, starting his second year in African American Studies. These are foundational programs for the support and promotion of diversity, inclusion and global learning on campus, and we are committed to their efforts.
  • We also have new faculty starting in anthropology, biology, communication studies, computer science and social work.
  • Computer science has several new programs for this fall, including certificate programs in web design and in computer programming, a new minor in web and mobile development and a new master’s program in cybersecurity.

What advice would you give students who may perhaps be on the fence about starting college or returning during this time?

It’s not an easy time to be starting or continuing a college education this year, but it is certainly a moment for reflecting on the society in which we live. The kinds of courses that students take in the COLS, especially the general education courses offered through the University Studies Program, are the perfect vehicles for reflecting on what societies have looked like in the past, how they handled pandemic moments like this on, and how other societies are handling it right now. Students can discover how science can help us to solve the medical challenges we face now and will face in the future, and what role they themselves might like to play in solving those problems. COVID-19 is not the only issue our students have confronted during the past six months. Questions of diversity and racial justice, policing and politics have been of major importance, especially to young people. There is nowhere better to discuss these vital questions than in university. Students can read about, discuss and participate in ways to make our world a better place, and they have the faculty here to aid them in that process.

Although our campus may not look exactly the way it usually does in the fall, it still offers the excellent education students will need to face the challenges we have right on our doorstep.

What are your own personal thoughts/goals about returning in the fall?
As an historian, I am acutely aware that crises like pandemics and moments of social change can both unite and divide communities. Though effective leaders like to claim that we are in the crisis together, it does not always feel that way. I want both our University community and our wider society to hold together across the many divides we encounter, and I would like to play a role in bridging those gaps.

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