Jeremy Van Hof and Kate Sonka

Countless Spartans were instrumental in moving most university services online in the wake of the pandemic.

Jeremy Van Hof, Director of Learning Tech and Development in the Broad College of Business, and Kate Sonka, Assistant Director of Academic Technology in the College of Arts and Letters, are two of those Spartans. Sonka and Van Hof’s answers to the following questions provide a glimpse behind the scenes of a massive, coordinated effort. 

Can you explain how you and your team have helped move the university online?

On March 9 a small group of educational technology and instructional design experts in the College of Arts & Letters, Broad College of Business, College of Natural Science, and the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources met in Linton Hall to discuss how to collaborate to help ready our colleges for what we perceived as a likely move to remote instruction. That meeting culminated in our four colleges drafting a Proactive Guidance Statement for faculty, which helped to lay the groundwork for a move to remote teaching. We also put in place that day a plan to repurpose our existing One Week One Course program as a mechanism to prepare faculty for offering their summer classes online. 

We realized as a group that our four colleges were well positioned to help our faculty move online. We also knew that there would be communications and resources coming from central locations (The Hub, MSU IT, the provost) and we wanted our work to sync with that. We joined the Keep Teaching meeting that took place on the afternoon of March 9, and offered to that group our resources and time. Ultimately, Keep Teaching became a daily meeting and we played a central role in moving that initiative forward. We were central authors on much of the original content that was posted on keepteaching.msu.edu. The Broad College offered use of its studio that week and the next for the filming of remote teaching support videos and the Spartan Fireside chats.

The primary contributors to these early response efforts were: David Howe, Leslie Johnson, Scott Schopieray, Kate Sonka, Stephen Thomas, Daniel Trego, Jeremy Van Hof, and Sarah Wellman.

Subsequently, our small group continued to pursue repurposing the One Week One Course program as a summer readiness tool. Additional people from around the university joined us to build a 5-day hybrid training program we called SOIREE: Summer Online Instructional Readiness for Educational Excellence program. We ran a pilot of that program the week of April 5, iterated based on feedback, ran a second pilot the week of April 13, and iterated again. The first formal cohort of SOIREE consisted of about 80 faculty members from around the university. It concluded April 24. There are five additional cohorts scheduled to run through June 12. In all, more than 650 faculty members from all across MSU will engage in the SOIREE program.

The SOIREE authors are: Jason Archer, Kevin Henley, David Howe, Leslie Johnson, Summer Issawi, Rashad Muhammad, Nick Noel, Candace Robertson, Scott Schopieray, Kate Sonka, Jessica Sender, Stephen Thomas, Daniel Trego, Jeremy Van Hof, Sarah Wellman, and Valeta Wensloff.

Although this was a difficult process, can you explain what opportunities presented themselves during this transition?    

This process has allowed us to broaden and deepen the instructional and pedagogical support we offer our colleges (and the university at large). Preliminary feedback from the SOIREE program is overwhelmingly positive, with many participants stating that they wished they had had similar training earlier in their careers. We intentionally structured the early remote teaching guidance and the SOIREE program to be rooted in pedagogical theory and educational best practices. We built into the program clear messages about accessibility, inclusivity, and equity, embedding the notion of a “culture of care” into the instructional practices for which we advocate. Because so many faculty members needed to progress through these training programs so rapidly, we were able to advance a targeted message of caring, critical digital pedagogy to a wide audience. We have long been advocating that MSU educators should teach the “whole Spartan,” and this process offered us a venue to deliver that message to the entire campus.

What was the most rewarding part of the process for you?

Through all this, we have come to collaborate with an ever-growing group of well-meaning and highly skilled educational professionals. It has been inspiring to see how many people on this campus are working daily to improve the educational environment for all Spartan students. 

As a group, we knew that as this pandemic unfolded we could do the most good for the most people if we put our knowledge and skills to use. We sought to help as many faculty members navigate this online teaching transition because we knew that in doing so we would be helping to improve the learning experiences for thousands of students. Absent our ability to help in a medical or economic way, we felt that we could help in an educational space, working to ensure that as many of our students as possible found this transition to be as manageable and meaningful as possible.

What other units/partners did you find essential to your success? To whom are you grateful?

The SOIREE authors are: Jason Archer, Kevin Henley, David Howe, Leslie Johnson, Summer Issawi, Rashad Muhammad, Nick Noel, Candace Robertson, Scott Schopieray, Kate Sonka, Jessica Sender, Stephen Thomas, Daniel Trego, Jeremy Van Hof, Sarah Wellman, and Valeta Wensloff.

We worked closely with Jessica Knott and her small team in MSU IT to build a support network for faculty members as they design and deliver their courses online.

We worked closely with members of the MSU Hub to help administer the SOIREE program. This group was instrumental in SOIREE project management, recruiting facilitators, and engaging with MAUs to enroll faculty members in the SOIREE program. They also were central in the remote.msu.edu site development, and worked closely with us to build an archive of resources on keepteaching.msu.edu. Specifically, Bre Yaklin and Ashley Braman were critical in SOIREE project management and administration.

Deans Sanjay Gupta, Chris Long, Phillip Duxbury, and Ron Hendrick have been generous in their support of our team’s collaborative efforts. Their associate deans have also provided critical support and information in the planning and delivery of the SOIREE program.