Martina Pavlicova and Cale N. Basaraba
Martina Pavlicova, Associate Professor of Biostatistics, Mailman School of Public Health, CUIMC; Innovative Course Design Award Recipient
Cale N. Basaraba, Instructor in Biostatistics, PhD Student in Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, CUIMC; Data Analyst, Mental Health Data Science Group, NYSPI
Martina Pavlicova and Cale Basaraba discuss how they worked with the CTL to redesign the course Applied Regression I into a hybrid model to promote student learning, and share how this work greatly eased the transition of the course into an entirely online format when the pandemic hit.
Applied Regression I (AR1) teaches students linear regression analysis. This course is required for many academic programs within the Mailman School of Public Health, and draws students from very different backgrounds. The student population is made up of first-year MPH (Master of Public Health) students from the Biostatistics Department, first- and second-year students from across MPH disciplines in the Mailman School of Public Health, first-year MS students in the Patient Oriented Research Program, and first-year PhD students. In addition, there are a substantial number of working health professionals, such as doctors or nurses from the CUIMC community, who take the course. As a result, course enrollment is regularly ~100 students per semester.
In Summer 2019, the AR1 teaching team received a Provost teaching grant to support transformation of the first three lectures into a “flipped-classroom” format with the “in-kind” help of Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). These efforts, that started before the pandemic, largely helped the pandemic transition of the course to an entirely online format. Specifically, for the first three classes, we produced asynchronous video materials that students were expected to watch on their own. The class-time was then focused on the introduction of statistical software SAS using data examples that were relevant to asynchronous materials combined with modified group-based learning strategies. The goals of this change were to provide more flexibility for the student population during the early parts of the course which focused mostly on review and introductory material, since students in the course have varied levels of statistical knowledge and non-traditional schedules. Students remarked that having online elements of the course allowed them to learn at their own pace and were actually quite helpful for easing them into the transition to the fully online version of the course because it “…sensitized us to learning online”.
Very early on in the pandemic, the teaching team recognized the seriousness of COVID-19 and felt requiring in-person attendance was no longer appropriate, so we began the process of moving the course online in mid-February 2020, several weeks before the University closed. The teaching team felt that students should not be weighing coming to class against their personal health, so students were allowed to participate completely remotely from early February and the course went to a fully online structure in the end of February. This early and gradual adaptation was noticed by students, who commented that preparing for this change early “…meant that they [the teaching team] didn’t invent everything from scratch at the one moment that everyone else was kind of freaking out about moving their course online…”
Once we transitioned entirely online, we used Zoom to hold live class sessions, and made sure that the lectures were recorded for students who were not available to participate during the live Zoom sessions. Additionally, we made sure to increase the periods for time-sensitive elements of the class, like quizzes, since many students had disrupted schedules. We leveraged Zoom’s break-out room technology to recreate the small group-based activities that began every class by creating a room for each group. Students were also encouraged to continue to participate in back-and-forth discussion with the professor, just as they did during in person classes.
In order to evaluate how students felt about the flipped classroom approach, the CTL had helped us organize two focus groups with students. This also allowed us to hear direct feedback about their experiences when the course transitioned to online-only instruction. Students shared that the transition had been smooth compared to their other courses. One student explained that, “…it’s still highly interactive, even though it’s a one-hundred person class because it was before and we had already set up really good classroom norms and expectations.” Students also reported that the professor’s thoughtfulness about their circumstances was very helpful during the transition, and that the online versions of group activities and discussions kept the course very interactive.
We had already been working with the CTL to flip the first three classes; they were instrumental in setting up a pipeline for recording high-quality asynchronous video materials for the first three lectures. Because the videos were enriched with interactive features such as quizzes and hotspots, CTL team was instrumental in finding innovative and effective ways to host the videos.
Based on our experiences, we think it is really important not to underestimate the time it takes to organize and prepare materials for an online course. Creating high-quality videos with interactive features in advance takes far longer than giving lectures in person, so we had to budget ample amounts of time for recording and editing. Similarly, creating groups for small breakout activities over programs like Zoom takes a lot more coordination and preparation than doing something similar in a live setting. Having a very well-prepared TA team, and practicing beforehand, was instrumental.
Secondly, we cannot stress enough the importance of setting norms for the class. One important piece of feedback we received from students was that the group activities and back-and-forth interaction with the professor were much easier to translate online because “the norms for how these activities should proceed were established when the course was in person”. It’s important to take the time early in an online course to establish norms for the structure of the class, how students should interact with each other in the course, and how they should interact with the instructor, and make sure everyone adheres to them.
Lastly, we would like to thank the CTL team for always being available for us. We would also like to note that the students in Mailman School of Public Health are exceptional, hardworking and honest scholars and we could not think of a better cohort to experience pandemic with. That especially includes our Teaching Assistants, the second year MPH students in MSPH, who worked tirelessly and with excitement and drive even in the hardest moments of the pandemic and without whom, our course could never have succeeded.
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