Part of CAFNR’s mission is preparing students for a complex, interconnected planet. To thrive in tomorrow’s society, students must be adaptable learners and informed citizens to make purposeful contributions in the world. CAFNR provides these opportunities through exceptional experiential and practical learning experiences based on cutting-edge science and through communicating and engaging with people and the community.
Students in CAFNR not only get a degree while in Columbia – they get the entire CAFNR experience. Students gain that experience through award-winning advisors and teachers, research opportunities with internationally renowned scientists, study abroad options tailored to degree programs and in more than a dozen countries, career expos bringing nearly 200 employers to campus each year, and hands-on learning opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the CAFNR experience looks. Mizzou announced that the rest of the spring semester would be taught remotely. Teaching faculty within CAFNR have been working hard to make the transition to remote learning as easy as possible.
“Faculty quickly gathered in teams to share ideas and strategies on how to deliver course content remotely using the most up-to-date technology and tools,” said Bryan Garton, senior associate dean of Academic Programs. “While we recognize that remote learning is not the same “hands-on” experience our students are accustom to, faculty are giving their best effort in the current situation.”
Hands-on learning opportunities have been the most difficult courses to switch to a remote learning format. Marci Crosby, instructor in the Division of Animal Sciences, has four courses this spring – three of which are a hands-on practice of what students have learned so far related to equine science.
Crosby, Mikaela Adams, a graduate research assistant, and a handful of part-time staff are still caring for the horses at the Equine Teaching Facility at the South Farm Research Center in Columbia. They are recording and photographing a lot of that care.
“We’ve had to get a little creative for sure,” Crosby said. “We’re gathering a ton of excellent video of certain skills that students would have been working on every month. We’re posting those videos, as well as discussions related to those skills. We’re also posting weekly updates in regards to individual horse management, with a focus on finding those teachable moments. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to keep the students as informed as possible.”
Students in Crosby’s courses are missing out on a major learning opportunity – assisting with the birth of foals at the facility. During a normal class, students sign up and watch around the clock, as a foal is about to be born, and then participate in the care of the mare and newborn foal after birth.
“We were able to purchase some GoPros, and Mikaela is wearing them throughout the foaling,” Crosby said. “We’re still having the students sign up and watch the mares through Zoom. The students are keeping track of behavioral changes of the mare prior to foaling, and when the mares go to foal, all of the students can jump on the Zoom meeting at that point. It’s not as exciting as being in the barn, but I feel confident that the students are gaining valuable skills.”
Labs and other interactional learning opportunities, such as Study Abroad, have also been affected by remote learning. Leon Schumacher, professor in the Division of Food Systems and Bioengineering, said he would have had a Study Abroad trip to Germany, focused on agricultural systems management, returning to Columbia right around Spring Break.
“Labs have been tricky,” Schumacher said. “I’m typically walking around a piece of equipment during our labs, showcasing what each part of the system does. I’ve had to redo some of my handouts since it’s not as easy for students to interact with the equipment.
“Study Abroad has been a challenge, too. I generally have the students keep a journal while they’re overseas, as well as do some language training and other activities. For the students who want to finish that course, I’ve having them write some papers on a variety of topics, all related to how agriculture and manufacturing is different between Germany and the United States. It’s tough since they haven’t seen that firsthand, but it is allowing for some in-depth research.”
Canvas, Zoom and Panopto have been incredibly important for CAFNR faculty during the transition.
Canvas is an online learning setting, which provides students state-of-the-art access to course materials. John Tummons, assistant teaching professor in the Division of Applied Social Sciences, has relied on Canvas for his courses in the past. During the remote learning transition, he has turned the program much more frequently.
“For all of my classes, I rely heavily on our Canvas course management system to post readings, quizzes, lecture notes, assignments and live lectures,” Tummons said. “I like Canvas because it allows me to be a more effective teacher – I can post rubrics, I can add short videos which support the content, and even allow for secure, online student collaboration.
“For the transition to remote teaching, I have used Canvas much more heavily. I still record lectures, but they are much shorter and now it’s just me talking to my computer as opposed to recording a live class, so we lose some discussion and interaction. However, I do have some great additional resources I’ve posted to Canvas to enrich the content. My online structure is asynchronous, which means I set up weekly modules which students can complete at any time during the week. Each module contains notes, online lectures, mastery exercises and quizzes over the material to replace their in-seat participation and professionalism points. I also host live Zoom check-ins and virtual office hours for students and advisees.”
Some professors are using a combination of Zoom and Panopto, another video platform, to continue with their courses. Ben Knapp, associate professor in the School of Natural Resources, has found success with the combination for his courses. He is also pushing everything through Canvas.
“I’m trying a mixture of things for my two spring courses,” Knapp said. “With Zoom, I’m doing an actual lecture, where I can share the screen and show PowerPoint slides. It feels like a more traditional lecture in that sense. I’m also getting more familiar with Panopto, and trying to post lectures through that platform. With Panopto, I’m breaking up one lecture into three videos so the students can watch them on their own. They have to watch the videos by a certain date, and we then have a Zoom call to discuss the material.”
The transition to remote learning has come with some challenges, especially as professors adapt to recording a lecture or performing a lecture without immediate student feedback. Learning to use the provided technology has also come with its own set of challenges.
“It’s been a huge adjustment for me,” said Harley Naumann, assistant professor in the Division of Plant Sciences. “I’m not an early adopter of technology – I use as little of it as possible. I’m still learning the best method for sharing tools and doing quizzes and exams through Canvas. I’ve been communicating course requirements constantly, just to make sure the students have everything they need to be successful in this time of remote learning.
“My interest in teaching is interacting with the students. What drives the dynamic of the lecture is based on the interactions we’re having in the middle of said lecture. When I see puzzled looks, I realize I have to cover that subject matter in greater detail. I also get those questions that I never see coming, which leads to great conversation. All of those are things I feed off of. The transition has been tough for sure, which is why constant communication has been a key for me.”
The biggest key for CAFNR faculty has been communicating with their students. Professors are also encouraging students to reach out as often as they would like, whether the discussion centers on coursework or life in general.
“I’m encouraging students to reach out to me,” said Shari Freyermuth, associate teaching professor in the Department of Biochemistry and assistant dean of academic programs. “Most of the emails I’ve gotten from students have been so apologetic for emailing – saying that they know I’m really busy. That may be true, but I’d rather work with students than all the other things I have that keep me busy. I want the students to know that we look forward to their communications with us – even if they are asking for something.”