University of South Florida


Screen shot of a video conference class with pubilc health students.

Various disciplines incorporating COVID-19 into lesson plans

By Sandra C. Roa, University Communications and Marketing

USF faculty members are finding palpable teaching opportunities to engage students while social distancing. Many have added the coronavirus to their syllabus, using real-life examples and online tools to meet educational requirements.

“It’s disappointing to have the semester disrupted, but for the types of students that I am teaching, there is no better environment for learning,” said Zachary Pruitt, assistant professor in the College of Public Health. “It’s a great learning opportunity. We can apply it to something that is meaningful and significant. The knowledge will last forever.”

One of the most obvious areas of study where the pandemic is particularly poignant is in the College of Public Health. Pruitt teaches a course in health administration and health policy for students training to become health care managers. Their main objective is to address the cycle of emergency management in situations, such as hurricanes and pandemics.

Normally, Pruitt uses “Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic,”  a graphic novel published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to analyze a four-point framework, which includes prevention/mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Now, students are turning directly to the World Health Organization website for updates on COVID-19 and using their Canvas discussion boards to examine pandemic management.

“Right now, we are in a situation where we need to do the science. This includes modeling public health interventions, understanding the medical supply chain and the capacity of the health delivery system, such as intensive care unit beds,” Pruitt said. “This is all science.”

Screen shot of a powerpoint slide detailing a social distancing curve live.

The real-time experience of the pandemic gives public health students an enhanced sightline to consider all of the factors involved. By integrating COVID-19 into lectures, Thomas Unnasch, distinguished professor in the College of Public Health, is able to point at specific frontline infrastructures that are leading to positive outcomes.

Unnasch teaches graduate students about the different ways infectious diseases emerge. His students evaluate epidemic outbreaks, such as SARS, Ebola, Zika, and now most recently, COVID-19.

“There is an important lesson here,” Unnasch said. “We are living through the consequences of understanding what happens during a public health emergency right now. Anytime you are experiencing something for yourself, it’s a really powerful learning experience, rather than just being told about it.”

Although there are many tools available for teaching, learning online comes with a lot of challenges, particularly in areas where high-fidelity lab environments are essential. Larry Todd, assistant dean for simulation programs in the College of Nursing, turned to his wider nursing education community to find online videos that are synchronous across his curriculum. Todd is using the trigger films to stand in for the physical environments where nursing students would role-play a specific health care professional, such as a surgeon, pharmacologist or nurse.

“From the standpoint of whether you are actually in the operating room or whether you are watching this on film, the same type of application of knowledge and decision-making occurs. It’s really no different,” Todd said.

Todd cites studies that show congruent educational outcomes between simulation labs and trigger film scenarios. Both situations are opportunities for students to apply didactic material into something they have actually seen and experienced. Most of the simulation-related skills were introduced to nursing students earlier in the semester, so now the lessons are mostly reinforcing muscle memory.

Todd remains in contact with his students via Blackboard Collaborate sessions and is enjoying an enhanced level of interaction.

“The new environment is exciting. We are all trying to create a sense of normalcy,” Todd said.

Faculty members making adjustments to their courses are mostly concerned with continuity. However, with the current social distancing requirements, journalism students in the Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications are prohibited from conducting in-person interviews.

Broadcast students typically produce newscasts throughout the semester, which requires shooting video and interviews. Instead, they’re now online obtaining social media management and production software certifications.

“There are some silver linings and my students seem to enjoy a break from only covering the problems,” said course instructor Jeanette Abrahamsen. “I'm trying to get them to dig a bit deeper to investigate solutions.”

Abrahamsen is using the COVID-19 pandemic to get students to reflect on the personal impact of being a news reporter. This may help students establish an appreciation for work/life balance.

“Journalism in general can be quite emotionally taxing at times, so this is a good learning experience for them,” Abrahamsen said

Music student plays flute in a video conference class

Faculty members are using the social distancing requirement to encourage students to develop their own independent schedules. Francesca Arnone, visiting flute professor in the School of Music, conducts a hybrid learning experience for her students. She evaluates the progress of each flute student by requiring them to submit audio/video recordings. The autonomous practice time is a valuable learning experience that demonstrates the reality of being a professional musician.

“It’s a very powerful tool to hear and see what we’re doing,” Arnone said. “It really helps connect thought and action and develop more of an audience ear.”

 The recordings are paired with reflection notes from each session and used in follow-up video conference calls. Arnone has students mute their microphones to run through tone and technique exercises. These activities are fundamental skills in playing, but also for maintaining a sense of community, from which most music activity thrives. This gave Arnone the idea to reach out to high school music directors and offer a similar opportunity to USF’s outer community. She then developed specific exercises that she leads in video conference music sessions with high school flute students.

“We play together and sometimes we get really crazy and we leave all the mics on,” Arnone said with a chuckle. “It sounds just nuts, but it’s fun to do.”

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