Over 50 percent of first-year students enroll in one of fifteen courses at UT, all of which are now either online, hybrid, or hyflex due to the novel coronavirus. Now imagine trying to organize and coordinate resources for the instructors of those courses, and their students, to help provide the same experience as an in-person class. This is where Sally C. Harris (PhD), distinguished lecturer and assistant director of undergraduate studies for the Department of English, steps in.
As faculty-lead for the First-Year Course Academy, Dr. Sally Harris acts as coordinator between the first-year course instructors and the experts. The First-Year Course Academy is a new initiative that was developed to equip the 180+ instructors of the 15 highest-enrolled courses with first-year students with the best practices for teaching and engaging with their students in a virtual setting.
“By providing the instructors with these resources and with these tools and with the knowledge and the support, [our goal is that] they will be more effective in teaching their first-year students and will be able to engage them, help them to feel more welcome, get them connect with the resources that can support them academically, non-academically,” said Harris.
In preparation for the start of the program, Harris coordinated with course coordinators to determine faculty and students’ past needs and wants as well as what instructors wanted from the program. Then, she brought these concerns to light as she worked closely with a team of experts from the Office of the Provost, Teaching & Learning Innovation, the Division of Student Success, the Office of Information Technology and the Office of Online Programs & Instruction to help create this program and its resources. Over the two–part program, Harris continues to serve as liaison for faculty and oversee the implementation of, and monitor, the program. No stranger to online learning, Harris learned firsthand the process of going hybrid with her course ENG 295 – Writing in the Workplace back in 2007.
“I realized a lot of the time we were spending in class was me talking, and there was a lot of the class that was interactive, but at the point that was me talking, didn’t necessitate me being there if I could record it and the students could interact with it,” said Harris.
Working closely with OIT, Harris learned how to record lecturers that students could then interact with virtually – so they were not just sitting and watching a video or reading material. She was able to record her lecturers and students could take quizzes and answer questions like “How does this topic connect to what we were talking about before?” in the lecturers as they went along. From there, she kept growing – finding new ways and tools – from Adobe Captivate and Blackboard to Zoom and Canvas – to maintain interactive learning in a similar way as the classroom.
These techniques have worked so well for her that even in her non-hybrid courses, Harris started using some of the same techniques.
“Learning how to teach online and learning about some of the good ‘how to teach online’ practices have made my face-to-face [classes] better,” said Harris. “Teaching online has made me think more clearly and more logically about my face-to-face classes and think about what is it that the students need and how they will best get access to it. It really has helped me hone my teaching pedagogy for both online and in-person classes.”
Although Harris received her masters and doctorate from the University of Tennessee in English having written her dissertation on Victorian literature – more specifically sensationalist novels by Le Fanu, she does not teach many literature courses at UT anymore. Harris says she has enjoyed the shift, as her shift of pedagogy for teaching has also shifted into best practices for instructional design, which goes hand-in-hand with one of her new classes, Technical Writing. In addition, she also teaches Business Writing.
In closing, Harris says, “I love Victorian lit, but now I’m loving this, too. Our loves and passions change.”
For more information on the First Year Course Academy and how to participate in program offerings, visit our FYCA webpage.