How the Education Department Transitioned with COVID-19
By Summer Boulais
One of the hardest parts of being an education major during the pandemic is being kept out of the classroom. While schools are trying to keep their students safe, the teachers-in-training are missing opportunities to gain experience.
Another difficult change COVID-19 brought is the lack of connections between students in all departments. Dr. Brian Hartman, assistant professor of education, says, “Students can’t build relationships with each other and are isolated.”  Even with the addition of in-person classes, students who have had online classes together may not even recognize each other.
“Our department is a little bit unique because we teach classes full-time in the summers,” says Hartman.  The education professors have some experience with online formats, allowing for a smoother transition. It is the students who may have had a harder time getting used to the online format than the professors, at least initially.
Hartman’s teaching style is very interactive, so the traditional online tools didn’t work well for him. He worked with Dr. Peter Gleason, associate professor of psychology, to find a more interactive software. They became one of the first pilot groups for a company online that was made when COVID-19 started impacting schools.
This new technology software is called InSpace, and it uses virtual reality with break-out subgroups. Hartman described how he can do many similar things with this spatial chat that he could do in the traditional classroom.  Each student has a small video circle they can move around while looking at a floor-plan view.
Hartman likes to focus his classes more on interactions between students, rather than lecturing. He assigns presentations and group discussions often, so InSpace was very helpful to allow this teaching style online. Students can use InSpace to make presentations and hear other individuals in the specific room their circle is in.
Another software Hartman has used for his classes, especially team-based activities, is InteDashboard. This is where group discussions, quizzes, and activities where students work together take place. It helps stimulate real classroom discussion because students can transition from small groups and back.
Gleason has been the leader of their department by introducing them to new technology ideas, according to Hartman.  These software packages made a huge impact towards continuing teamwork among education majors in their classes. Though, they still face their biggest challenge of lacking experience in a real classroom.
Another new technology the education department has used is Teaching Channel. “This program allows students to get experience in the classroom by observing high quality teachers,” says Hartman.  Learning how to use these new programs and transitioning all the paperwork and certifications for final-year students to a digital format has meant a lot of effort on the part of the education department, but has also allowed the department to maintain high education standards.
“Without Covid, we wouldn’t have tried all of these new technologies. It has pushed the education department to become more advanced,” explained Hartman.  He hopes to continue one of his classes online, technology for education, to showcase these newfound technologies to future teachers.
Hartman’s favorite part of teaching at the college level is “mentoring, getting to know students individually, advise them, and help them find jobs.”  The education department has showcased one of the most impressive transitions to an online format with these interactive programs. The efforts put forth by Hartman and Gleason have allowed students to interact and gain as much experience as possible, despite COVID-19.
- Interview with Brian Hartman, 5/20/2021.