Dispatches from the Remote Front Lines
By Keith Morelli
TAMPA (April 16, 2020) -- The dispatches from the remote front lines have revealed innovation, insights, advice and some chuckles as the faculty and staff of the Muma College of Business write about what life is like, not so much in the trenches, but at home, working remotely. It’s been about a month since USF shuttered its classrooms in an attempt to stem the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 outbreak. But the business of business education goes on and everyone is now working in the solitary (mostly) confinement of their homes. Here are some personal observations from those brave souls:
Director of the Zimmerman Advertising Program
Students begin populating the live online class 30 minutes early. Most have their video and/or mic on until class begins so they can talk to each other or me. Last week, three minutes into class as I’m explaining creative strategy, a male student’s voice loud and clear blared over me:
Student: (shrieking) “Mom, Mom, Mother! I’m in class! I don’t want a smoothie now! I don’t care if you put banana and peanut butter in it! I’m in class! No you can’t watch!”
Me: “Hi there! Do you have a question for me? Your mic is on.” (Of course, these video meeting platforms highlight whoever’s speaking, so we all knew who it was.)
Student: “Ah, great, no, I’m sorry, no question from me.”
Me: “That’s ok. Does your mom have a question for me?”
The chat fills with emojis, ♥️😷😂🤩🤣
Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy
A couple of things I can share:
1. I am teaching my classes through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. I am having students send me pictures of their pets at the beginning of each of my classes. The idea is to have a "Virtual Emotional Support Animal" feature where I show about four to five pet pictures each day and share the descriptions of the pets that students send in. I have had dogs, cats, birds, snakes, goats, an emu and hamsters. One student sent in a picture of his Keurig machine. It has been a lot of fun and the students really enjoy sharing their pets – and coffee makers – with the class.
2. To keep students connected, I have started a 30-minure virtual book club meeting
on Fridays for interested students. So far, we have about 25 students and we are
reading "The Latte Factor" by David Bach. Students seem pretty excited about it and
I had a book drawing earlier this month.
Director of the Monica Wooden Center for Supply Chain Management & Sustainability
I’ve made a couple of observations while working remotely:
* Grocery deliveries and masked people tend to show up in the backgrounds on monitors during meetings.
* In group meetings, when folks don’t have their camera on, our minds tend to wander, musing about what they might look like today.
* Cell phones don’t work as well inside and I’m forced to go out into courtyard for calls. A bit later, my neighbors began asking me, “How’s the new white paper on corona supply chain impacts coming along?” And, “How was the meeting you just had on hiring your new intern? We think you should consider Sam because you were much more excited about him than the others!” At first it was a little perplexing until I figure out my close-quarter neighbors were fully engaged in eavesdropping.
* Team meeting conversations boil down to lots of anecdotes and friendly jokes about this virtuous virtual living. We are hearing about and seeing the pets; I once watched a cat’s tail curl in front of someone’s face for a minute. That was quite humorous. Also I’m seeing guys who always wear ties now sporting T-shirts.
* Virtual happy hours are regular events now. One included an oyster delivery to one
of our esteemed donors. That was a treat.
Associate Director of Financial Management
So my kids go to a school that had spring break from April 6-10. I had scheduled vacation with them that took us to my cabin in western North Carolina for the week. We had a good time with some hiking, canoeing and rock climbing, all allowed by the North Carolina’s stay-at-home order.
I brought my computer, with two monitors, so I could set things up and start remoting in for work on April 13. I tested it all out during the week of spring break, and things were pretty well, but a little slow because my only Internet service in the cabin is cell based, and the cell signal isn’t the greatest.
In the middle of the night, on Sunday the 12th – the night before I was supposed to begin work – tornadoes came through my area, knocking out power to my closest cell tower. When I logged in to work the next day, the Internet was down. So, in a panic I took my truck and my camper into a little nearby town to try and find a better cell signal, which I did.
So I “commuted” to work with my camper and sat in the parking lot of a Food Lion and
had to use the camper as my office for Monday and Tuesday of this week. Because the
Internet service in my cabin was a little slow, I had ordered, the week before, a
cell signal booster to help make things better. The booster was delivered on Tuesday
and I was able to install it Tuesday evening. So here I am this week, working remotely
still in North Carolina, with good cell data service!
Web Content Administrator
Earlier this spring, when my sister-in-law was able to sell her house in two days, and buy one in another two days, my wife and I thought it would be a good time to relocate closer to town (Brooksville). This week, we finalized a deal to sell our existing house and buy a new house. Not the best timing: A global pandemic, a stay-at-home order, school work for three kids – including dance classes – being done from home, my work being done from home, and now moving everybody and everything into a new house.
Fortunately, I have had a good amount of experience with remote working and my work is mostly through email even when we aren’t all stuck at home. It did mean we had to get a new computer so each of us could work during the day and all five of our phones have at least one online meeting app on them. With consolidation on the horizon, I’m also trying to get a little ahead of the work so I can keep my head above water when things get really crazy.
As far as moving into our new house, inspections are being done and we are coming
up with plans for interim storage. We are trying to figure out how to maintain social
distancing while convincing our extended family to help us move. My in-laws have been
gracious enough to let us stay with them for the 21 days between closings. Let’s all
hope they don’t regain their sanity before that happens.
Academic Services Administrator, Graduate Programs
I have always had a remote setup to catch up on the weekends during our busiest times. But, I have not worked remotely on a consistent basis. Now that we are “meeting” with students from home, that has become an interesting adventure because my home is a farm and it is surrounded by other farms. Right now, it is blueberry season and birds like to eat the crop, so the local farmers are using cannons that basically shoot off bottle rockets to scare the birds off and keep their crops safe. The thing is that these cannons start at daylight and go throughout the day and they sound like gunshots. So I am always having to tell students that if they hear something like a gunshot, don’t worry, that is not what it is.
I am so used to the noise that I wasn’t thinking about it when conferencing with a coworker. One went off and they (and their dog) jumped. It gave me a good chuckle and then I had to give a mini agriculture lesson on how and why they use them to keep birds from eating up the berries.
Also this: It has become a daily Microsoft Teams discussion for our office to find out what is going on at Bender Farms. For the rest of you, here’s an update: We have had a cow tear down a 12-foot gate, a rabbit get attacked by a hawk and snakes in the barn. You name it and it has happened here.
My virtual classes always have a visit from one of the beagles. And sometimes my husband
is on the tractor making all kinds of racket. There has even been some braying by
the neighborhood donkeys in the background of meetings.
My recent experience with remoting has been quite interesting. The past couple of days, I’ve been remote working from home while the roof of our building in our apartment complex is being replaced. The constant banging and sawing overhead has been bothersome to both myself, my wife – who is also remoting into USF for her job in the College of Engineering – and our two small dogs: a Pomeranian named Timbit, and a Yorkie named George.
I’m thankful I haven’t had any teams meetings during all of the work, which would
have been difficult because of the commotion. Sure, I have been loaned a headset with
a microphone, but the noise would have been an obvious distraction.
Lynn Pippenger School of Accountancy
Students had asked me to record videos of me working out problems “like in class” (i.e., in front of a whiteboard, with problems displayed on a nearby screen). The classes for which I was using this setup were tax courses—TAX 4001 and TAX 5015. It was particularly helpful for our coverage of property dispositions and depreciation recapture in the former course, and accounting for income taxes in the latter course.
The setup involved two step ladders, two storage bins, a wood board, a large monitor, two children’s books, and a 20-pound dumbbell. I tried to develop a setup using existing equipment that would easily be set up every morning and torn down every evening.
Students appeared to be pleased with the setup. Several commented that the experience
was “just like class” (without, of course, the dialogue from students).
Instructor, System Analysis and Design
Information Systems and Decision Sciences Department
So, at first I thought I would just record some 15-minute lecture videos using Panapto (Canvas plug-in), and that seemed to be enough. But, then I started to realize how easy it would be to just keep the class schedule routine and stream the lectures.
Turns out it was quite easy to set up. I am using Blackboard Ultra to live stream my classes and I am using Microsoft Teams for "virtual" office hours.
The office hours were a little strange at first; rather than work in my office with the door open, waiting for someone to walk in, I now join a team meeting and keep my camera and mic on, waiting for someone to show up and start talking.
I am normally a face-to-face guy. I am the kind of guy who will walk over to your office rather than send an email, so I do prefer the old way. Barb Warner calls my office "the barber shop" because students just come back and hang out. We talk about life as well as the assignments; I started a basketball game on Mondays and Wednesdays after class, and that has been a lot of fun – I really miss that – I am looking forward to getting back to the court.
That aspect of faculty life is very similar to my old Coast Guard career: leading and motivating young men and women.