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SPA Faculty to Blizzard: Snow Thanks!

Ward with snow

The dark classrooms and offices of Ward Circle Building, the home of the School of Public Affairs, were misleading during DC’s historic storm. Their usual inhabitants, SPA faculty, just took their work home or online.  

“I taught my Monday night section of Science and Technology Policy online—well, at least half of it—using Blackboard’s discussion board,” said Howard McCurdy, professor of public administration and policy. “I am preparing to teach the Saturday section of the same class online if the students can't safety get to campus and return home.”

“I prepared a number of exercises that the students could complete during the session. I typed out my lessons in advance, which I cut and pasted into the discussion threads. Then I planned breaks so the students could insert work they had prepared. We communicated by email before the session began to set up the session.”

“It's harder than classroom lecturing!,” assessed McCurdy.

Though the Blackboard discussion board allows students to follow their online lessons at any time, McCurdy’s students all sat down at their computers concurrently. “Except for one student who couldn't get back from Florida — tough,” laughed McCurdy.

Brian Forst, professor of justice, law and society, switched from face-to-face instruction to distance-learning for his course Terrorism, Crime and Public Policy. “It has been working without a glitch. I'm anticipating the complaint that students prefer DL better than FTF. Too bad.”

Keys to his success: Forst provided clear expectations for his students’ online work, he kept the class social by asking them to comment on each other’s work, and he provided a variety of topics so that students were likely to find a writing topic that they care about.

Saul Newman, associate professor of government, set aside the snow shovel to put a stake into his research and the virtual terrain. “I edited a journal article manuscript, made audios of my lectures that I disseminated as MP3s on Blackboard, and started Blackboard discussion threads tied to the lectures.”

Through an online seminar offered during the snowy week, SPA faculty also sampled WIMBA, the newest tool for online collaboration available to AU faculty.

“You can continue to teach, and students can continue to learn,” declared SPA’s associate dean for academic affairs Meg Weekes, “from a distance and at all hours!”

In SPA’s department of public administration and policy, faculty were busy making and remaking real life plans. DPAP chair Bob Durant kept the e-mails flying in preparation for the launch of the March 18th Charles H. Levine Memorial Lecture in Public Administration and Policy, named for the first distinguished professor at SPA. Assistant professor David Pitts was rescheduling the next installment of in the department’s popular Research Seminar Series.

There was one other faculty approach to the storm of the century: a planned escape to a likely snow-free location. Katherine Farquhar, director of SPA’s AU/NTL program in organization development, accompanied a group of executive students to their international residency—in Bermuda.