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FCS professor aims for student success through unprecedented times

Dr. Chang Su-Russell hosting a Zoom session

At the beginning of the spring semester, Dr. Chang Su-Russell completed a Design, Align, Refine, and Teach Online (DART) training conducted by the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT) at Illinois State University. This training was useful as she transformed her traditional classes into an online format after President Dietz’s announcement. She even took it a step further to construct a Qualtrics survey to understand her students’ pain points regarding online learning. Maximizing the new normal was her new goal, “a week after the transition to online learning, I sent a follow-up survey to receive student feedback on the transition experience. This allowed me to further align my course design to facilitate their online learning experiences,” she said.

Some of the specific tools that have aided this transition include Screencast-o-Matic which she uses to record all her course introductions, assignment instructions, and lecture notes on ReggieNet. Sharing more about a unique class, FCS 231, a parenting class that originally involves taking care of a baby simulator for a weekend and submitting a reflection paper, Su-Russell developed an alternative class project to match students’ career and professional goals/interests. Her students turned in impressive projects like developing evidence-based resources that considered how culture influences postpartum practices and parenting newborns; and researching struggles and developing resources for teen parents who are enrolled in high school. About going the extra mile with her classes, Dr. Su-Russell says “at the end of the day, I wanted to ensure my students felt supported and were able to still accomplish course objectives while exploring issues relevant to future goals and that might help them be more marketable and competitive on the job market.”

In another class, FCS 200: Research Methods, Su-Russell scheduled Zoom meetings with each research team of about 5 to 6 students to provide them with data analysis consultations. To achieve the desired results, she worked with each team in the development of shared Google Docs/Slides, monitored their progress, and provided feedback as they completed their group research projects over the rest of the semester. With the usual walk-in hours gone, Su-Russell found an alternative, “I encourage students to schedule Zoom meetings with me if emails are not the most optimal way to communicate their concerns. When that happens. Zoom meetings are usually scheduled either within the same day or within 48 hours in response to their questions.”

Working full time and caring for a one-year-old through a period of transition is no easy feat. However, Su-Russell appreciates the unwavering support of her spouse and parents. On managing this, she says “my family helped me out significantly so that I can at least try to maintain a work-family balance most of the time. My one-year-old sometimes joins my Zoom meetings (faculty meeting or CTLT Early Career Circles). One time I had to help her go down for a nap during a meeting in the afternoon. My colleagues were very understanding of the situation.”

Finally, Su-Russell has three pieces of advice for professors and students in this period:

  • Take it one day at a time!
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions or ask for help from your colleagues or your family.
  • Prioritize self-care. Keep in mind we are all going through ambiguous loss and secondary trauma collectively in this world.

Illinois State University has a wealth of resources to support faculty, staff and students in this period. For information and resources on navigating research, teaching, and learning online, please visit https://coronavirus.illinoisstate.edu/.