Traci Levy, PhD, shares her thoughts on the transition from in-person to virtual classes and adaptions made in the political science department.

The spring semester has been an unconventional and unexpected one. Although online learning is not entirely new, it is now being done at an unprecedented scale due to the coronavirus pandemic. We spoke with Traci Levy, PhD, associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, who shared how she and her students are navigating the transition from in-person to virtual classes, how she’s dealing with tech glitches and Zoom crashes, and how cats can lighten our moods.

Tell us a little about what your online classes are like.

I am using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous class sessions. Synchronous classes are in real time, where we’re all together. Asynchronous means I provide content. For example, I may record videos to guide students through a reading and then put up a discussion forum for anyone who wants to follow up or has a question.

How are your online sessions going so far?

Attendance at those synchronous sessions have been outstanding. There are times when the tech is great and everything goes wonderfully. At other times we have issues with the sound or video quality, but I’ll say that my students have been real champs and have powered through. However, I miss seeing everyone face-to-face. You can’t scan the room in the same way with a video like when you’re in the classroom.

Can you give an example of how you changed an assignment you’d planned for the classroom to make it work online?

For one of my courses, students are assigned to deliver a speech. I would usually let them do their first speech as a short video because it’s less stressful than standing in front of the class. Then we’d move to delivering speeches in class. All of the speeches are now videos. Students upload their recorded speeches into a shared folder, then watch each other’s videos. We’ve talked about the differences between giving speeches in person and on video, and how you need both skills since so many jobs are using video interviews.

What feedback are you getting from students about the way their lives have changed?

Students are being hit with all kinds of other issues. I have students who have emailed me in distress because they are trying to go back home but can’t because of canceled flights. Students are dealing with tremendous caregiving burdens and stresses at home.

How have you and the political science faculty been dealing with this?

My colleagues and I are trying to be as empathetic and flexible as we can to help students through this crisis. I couldn’t be more proud of the political science department. We’re lucky at Adelphi that we have such personal relationships with our students—that we have small classes and get to know the students. Our faculty members are deeply committed to office hours and communicating with students outside of class. We’ve held office hours, paper meetings and advising sessions through Zoom, phone calls and/or emails. I find that students are reaching out to me just as often as they normally do.

The FBI has raised privacy concerns over the use of Zoom. As chair of the political science department, is this something the department is looking at? Do you have other options for online sessions?

I had someone appear in our Zoom class who wasn’t a student. [This is what’s referred to as Zoom bombing or Zoom crashing.] The Faculty Center for Professional Excellence has provided information about changes that we could make to Zoom to maintain the integrity and privacy of our sessions. I have made those changes. I’m using waiting rooms now so no one can just pop into my class meetings. I have to accept them and allow them in.

You held what you call a PoliTEAcal Science Coffeehouse. Can you explain what this is?

About once or twice a semester, the political science department runs little social gatherings where we invite students and faculty and staff. We usually serve tea or coffee or hot chocolate. Sometimes, we’ve called it the PoliTEAcal Science Coffeehouse and sometimes we call them the PoliChai Society, depending on who was inspired at the time. On March 27, we decided to hold an event via video conference. We wanted to stay connected. Faculty members, an office administrator, local students and a student studying in the Czech Republic popped in. It felt really meaningful to see everyone and hear how they were doing. And a silver lining of all this was that some of my colleagues brought in their cats for a minute or two.

[Editor’s Note: There were other silver linings to the Coffeehouse. We heard from Catherine Wheatley, the student who was studying in Prague, who said the meeting “really helped me personally feel connected to the Adelphi community during a time that I might have felt extremely disconnected.” She also told us that she’s “grateful for the professors of the political science department and how much they genuinely care about their students and how well they are able to show it.” Nada Osman, who is also rising senior majoring in political science, agreed. “The Coffeehouse was especially valuable because it made me realize how tight-knit the political science community is,” she said. “It helped me realize that I was not alone in the difficulties I was facing with the transition to online learning, and that my professors were there to support me and make this process as easy as it could be.”]

Have you held other virtual events?

Political science faculty, staff and students joined together virtually via Zoom on April 20. We celebrated our graduating political science seniors, departmental award winners and new inductees into Pi Sigma Alpha [the political science honor society]. We were honored to have the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Vincent Wang, and the executive director of Pi Sigma Alpha, Sean Twombly, join us. Also, Boris Manikhivov ’11, who double-majored in political science and economics, joined us to congratulate our seniors. Boris is a senior technical recruiter at Dataminr. He invited all the seniors to a free virtual workshop with “tips for finding, applying for, and getting a job.” He ran that workshop on April 23.

Then, on May 19, Associate Professor [Margaret] Gray and I co-hosted a Zoom chat to welcome our incoming first-year political science majors into our poli sci family. We were joined by several current political science majors and two alumni, Joe Orlando ’16, district office manager for New York State Assemblyman David Buchwald, and Phil DiSanto ’12, an associate [attorney] at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. In addition to participants from Long Island and New York City, we had students joining the chat from Maryland, Nebraska, Texas and Washington! We spoke about everything from living on campus to classes to trips into the city. Joe and Phil spoke eloquently about their work and how Adelphi poli sci helped prepare them.

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