Students at The Ohio State University were enjoying spring break when the news hit. University President Michael V. Drake announced that due to COVID-19, students were to continue courses remotely for the remainder of spring semester to maintain the health and safety of all Buckeyes. Only students who lived in dorms were permitted to return back to campus on scheduled days to accommodate social distancing as underclassmen moved their personal items out of their dorms a month early. Spring graduation went virtual, and Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered the commencement address.
Kristina M. Johnson took over as Ohio State’s president in summer 2020, and fall semester classes began with many students learning completely online while others attended in-person classes that met less often and in larger classrooms to allow social distancing. Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, enrollment in the School of Communication grew to 5,927 students this fall compared to 5,679 students last fall.
Many courses and student organizations changed formats to continue providing students with a high-quality education.
Based on university guidelines, the School of Communication moved all courses with enrollments above 50 students online to accommodate for social distancing and on-campus classroom availability. For courses with under 50 students, the university changed to a combination of virtual and in-person instruction.
Many in-person courses transitioned to a hybrid format in which students and instructors convened both online and in person. In-person and hybrid classes were moved to large classrooms that allowed for social distancing, and students were required to wear masks while on campus. The university used atypical classroom options like theaters in the Gateway Film Center to increase the number of available spaces. Instructors also streamed in-person courses so quarantined students could still participate.
Lanier Holt, an associate professor in the School of Communication, taught in-person while live streaming class to students at home.
“One of the initial challenges was managing the chat option,” Holt said. “I eventually managed a way to teach and also engage with that feature to see students’ comments and questions.”
Kristie Sigler, lecturer, serves as the course supervisor for more than 15 sections of the class, “Persuasive Communication.” With Sigler's classes shifting to hybrid and remote at the same time everyone around the world was also shifting to online and video conferencing, Sigler saw that the ability to communication and present well online are skills students need for their future.
“Our approach to presentation and public-speaking skills changed as we helped our students think through using technology differently to present to an online audience — something they’ll need to do for job interviews and work presentations in the future,” said Sigler.
This fall, the school offered 62 online courses compared to 20 offered last fall. Forty-two classes were moved online, with 27 of those courses held synchronously, meaning students and instructors met at scheduled class times online rather than asynchronously where students accessed recorded and posted materials on their own schedules.
The quick transition to new class formats required faculty to implement new technology, share best practices and troubleshoot with students to protect the integrity of the courses.
“It was the most surreal experience I’ve ever had in teaching,” said Holt.
Holt teaches a “Crisis Communication” course that teaches students to manage strategic communication efforts during a crisis.
“The irony that I’m teaching a crisis communication course when we’re in a real-life crisis is not lost on me,” Holt said. “You learn to adapt to the technology, you learn to overcome and also realize the students are doing this, too, but even on a grander scale.”
The School of Communication’s student organizations continued to meet online under university restrictions on groups meeting together in-person. Ohio State’s student-run PR firm, The PRactice, met weekly to continue supporting its clients. The Public Relations Student Society of America hosted weekly Zoom meetings for members and partnered with the College of Arts and Sciences on a speed networking event for students and professionals.
The Black Advertising Strategic Communication Association hosted bi-weekly meetings remotely, and the Ohio State chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists hosted a networking event for students to build relationships with current Black journalists and discuss the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ohio State’s student-run newspaper, The Lantern, continued to meet in-person in a limited capacity and with social distancing. The Lantern also switched to mainly electronic versions of the newspaper to minimize contact, including email and online copies. The newspaper also worked with the University of Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily, to produce a special rivalry edition for Rivalry Week and encourage donations to support ongoing costs to run the publications.
"Given all the challenges they faced and continue to face with this pandemic, I think The Lantern staff have done an outstanding job," said Spencer Hunt, lecturer and director of The Lantern.
The university will kick off spring semester Jan. 11, though classes will be remote for the first two weeks of instruction. Current plans are for classes to then continue with either hybrid or complete remote instruction. Several courses are considering a permanent switch to remote instruction based on the success from this year, but most classes will ultimately resume their previous formats.