How Duke Faculty Kept Teaching

On March 10, it was announced that all on-campus activities at Duke University were canceled for the remainder of the spring semester, and that all courses were to transition to emergency remote instruction by March 23. To support faculty in this transition, we began sending the Keep Teaching newsletter (part of the Keep Teaching effort) to highlight useful resources, share learning opportunities, and – most importantly – to let faculty know that they were not alone. Not only were Learning Innovation staff available to help – through workshops, virtual office hours, email, and one-on-one consultations – but also that their peers were experiencing some of the same challenges and victories. To illustrate that, we included a section at the end of every Keep Teaching newsletter called “How Duke Faculty Keep Teaching.” We have compiled and shared their stories, Tweets, and reflections here.

March 17

“Yesterday and today, I taught two classes by Zoom for the MMCi at the med school. These were probably among the first attempts at creating a virtual Duke.

One was guest-taught by Sharique Hasan from Fuqua and was on applying design thinking to health care innovation. There were 38 students who went in and out of breakout rooms and did a design thinking exercise. No one had used Zoom in this way before and it worked really well.

Today’s class was guest-taught by Victor Bennett from Fuqua on resistance to disruptive innovation in health care.  In this one, the students muted their mics and spent 30 minutes on their own or in pairs working on a Harvard Business School simulation.  Victor and I dropped in and out of conversations with individuals to monitor the exercise, as he monitored the scoreboard reflecting the students’ progress. Victor then led a post-mortem exercise with active participation by most of the students and then closed with a 45 minute lecture/discussion on the principles involved. 

The classes ran 2.5 hours and throughout both, the students actively participated (with the occasional child appearing on someone’s lap) and also engaged in an energetic dialog in the Chat Room, asking one another questions, giving examples from their own experience of what was being discussed, etc. 

The two classes utilized a range of teaching techniques and formats and I was quite amazed at how well it all worked.  One lesson learned – it would have been very difficult for a single teacher to have led the class and kept track of the Chat Room and the students with “hands up” seeking to speak. 

And we’re off….”

– Michael B. Waitzkin, Deputy Director of Duke Initiative for Science & Society

March 18

“….Approximately 20 Duke language program directors and coordinators met over Zoom to discuss logistics surrounding administering language instruction remotely. 

“At the meeting, we discussed ways to communicate with our students prior to class. Two colleagues shared a ‘remote learning survey’ they had created through Qualtrics for language teachers to survey students’ instructional needs. The survey has since been shared widely among teachers in Duke language departments. 

“Additionally, we talked through key questions such as: How are we preparing fellow instructors to work remotely? What do actual course contact hours look like in this new environment? How do we deal with testing and assessment? What common tools and platforms exist to help support language teachers with more and less technological experience? We also discussed the importance of creating community and providing students with enough support during this stressful period. 

“Finally, we talked about the importance of managing our own expectations as practitioners and finding community amongst each other remotely. It was an engaging two hours that led to the sharing of existing and the creation of new resources (e.g., a shared Box folder, protocols for the classroom, a google doc to collect helpful websites and additional ideas)….” 

– Cori Crane, Associate Professor of the Practice and German Language Program Director

March 19

“Gotta say, the @DukeLaw students in our first Zoom class this week were superb. In stressful times with so much uncertainty, we managed 110 minutes of semi-normalcy. They were engaged & passionate about the topic, & it was refreshing to virtually gather after what feels like so long!”

– Jake Charles, Duke Law School

March 20

“For every university’s many meetings/ classes in @Zoom this week while quarantined or otherwise doing remote learning, some people chose Hogwarts, but I’m happier hosting my meetings from the bridge of the USS Enterprise from @StarTrek. Stay healthy and safe everyone!”

– Mohamed Noor, Dean of Natural Sciences within Trinity College of Arts and Sciences

March 23

“The students provide the minds; I provide the hands. I loaded my car with tools, equipment and supplies from the 150 Hudson Hall lab and am setting up shop in my garage. Master’s students in the mechanical engineering & materials science capstone class will send me their designs and computer files that I will 3D print, prototype, assemble and test. We’ll debug, redesign and improve these designs together over Zoom. The experiments will be used by all MEMS grads and undergrads in the new engineering building opening fall 2020, while simultaneously fulfilling the current students’ graduate project requirement.” 

– George Delagrammatikas, assistant chair and director for master’s studies in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science at the Pratt School of Engineering

Read more stories on How Duke Spent Spring Break Preparing for What’s Next in Duke Today

March 24

“First and foremost, I’ve tried to keep, as much as possible, the mainstays from our course. For example, in Remedies (an upper level course at the law school) we create a number of hypotheticals in our class throughout the semester – one student is a plaintiff in a lawsuit and another is a defendant, with a third playing the role of a judge. We’ve continued to spin these out and bring in participation, via Zoom, to have the class feel as much as possible like how we have always run it. 

“That said, I’ve also tried to find ways to improve classes in this new format. As one small example, we read an excerpt of a book by a scholar named H. W. Perry at Texas for a seminar I teach on the courts of appeals. Because we were already meeting remotely, it occurred to me that it would be easy to invite Prof. Perry to join us and discuss his work, which is exactly what we did. (And thanks to our wonderful students, we had a really rich discussion.) I don’t have many scholars join us by Skype in the traditional seminar setting but this change in format has made that easier, and so now we are getting to hear from the very experts whose works we are reading collectively.

“The students have been absolutely fantastic. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how many of them would feel comfortable participating in this new format. But to their immense credit, soon after we began class, a number of ‘hands’ were in the air and there was widespread participation throughout the class. I’m not surprised, given the caliber of students we have here, but it is heartening to see so many students engaging so thoughtfully with the material and sharing their views even in this new setting, in a difficult time. I could not be prouder of them, or more grateful to be teaching them this semester.

“I also had the most wonderful virtual office hours – several students participated via Zoom, and had their pets along with them.  We ended up having a rich discussion about the relationship between substantive rights and remedies, and I would hazard that part of the reason is because it felt like we were all together in a common space – a collective living room, if you will.  I won’t forget those office hours for a long time!”

– Marin K. Levy, Professor of Law

March 25

“My approach was to try to keep the class experience as consistent as possible. I have a lot of experience working on Zoom meetings in my research collaborations, so it wasn’t much of a change for my daily work mode. 

“I got an iPad so I can easily share it as a virtual whiteboard on Zoom, so the students are watching me write out derivations and the class material can come out live through discussion still. This is as close to an in-person lecture discussion at the chalkboard as I can make it. 

“To keep things light on the ‘first day’ I grabbed a bunch of scenery photos I had from trips, one of my office at Duke, and a simulated space image from my research (shown below). I switched through them and used the Zoom poll feature to have them vote on their preference, which was a light way to introduce that kind of Zoom-based active-learning feature.

“We also talked briefly as a class about whether they thought continuing in this similar-to-in-person mode was best or if they wanted to try any other options, but people seemed to want to continue with this and with the previously planned material (an introduction to quantum mechanics at this point in the course). 

“One thing that’s actually easier in this format is quickly switching from the ‘chalkboard’ to pulling up examples (images or videos) of things that come up during the lecture or discussion. We’re past the part of the course where in-person demos are feasible, so I’m not losing in that by being remote.

“It’s only the first day, but I got about the level of response I get from in-person lectures, so it’s seemed to work out ok so far. It helps that my class size is very small, though!”

– Michael A. Troxel, Assistant Professor of Physics

March 26

The story below was excerpted from a Twitter thread by Prof. Sharique Hasan about a class he guest-taught at Fuqua:

“Just taught ‘Design thinking’ via Zoom. Was planning to do a 2-hour in-person session (which I’ve done dozens of times). The in-class experience is a ton of fun. Music, conversation, people building stuff, laughing, and an all-around good time…how could we take it online?

“This is what I did, what worked, and what didn’t. So some context: 40 students, Zoom, a medical informatics program with senior experienced leaders in healthcare from IT/Medicine/Research and more.

“On short notice, the students watched prerecorded and old d.schoolmaterial. Including the virtual crash course (, and made them do a wallet/gift exercise with a co-worker or family member.  They had to use any material they had on hand.

“I also gave students access to a Google Sheets link where they were asked to describe a technology-related problem they faced in their org. We would later use these prompts during the Zoom session.

“I began the Zoom session today by asking the students to describe the wallet they designed for each other. One pair discussed what they built. Although they had worked with each other for 25 years, they shared a bunch of new stuff during the empathy interviews. That was cool.

“Starting with the personal stories broke the ice nicely. Rather than me starting with a lecture (and I had not met the students previously). It relaxed the students (I think) and definitely made me relax as I saw students smiling and being engaged.”

For the rest of the story, check out the full Twitter thread.

– Sharique Hasan, Associate Professor of Strategy at the Fuqua School of Business

March 27

“Often a few of the 13 students in my seminar on Engaged Citizenship and Social Change arrive a few minutes late because the East West bus was full or delayed. Not so yesterday, the first day of my class going on-line. All 13 were there right at 1:25, one seemingly broadcasting from bed, one from a beautiful outdoor table, others from different parts of their house. I felt happy to see them all, to see that they were well and to launch this new way of learning together.

“In most ways, it went very well. Over the last two weeks, I had taken advantage of the many seminars that Duke offered to learn how to use Zoom and other online teaching tools. The training and support for our great online pivot here has been simply incredible, even exciting. I was proud that I had learned how to share my screen, create breakout rooms and share audio from my computer. The students knew how to raise their hands virtually and were very engaged in the class material.

“But also, and I think this is important to acknowledge for all of us, this is not what any of us signed up for and there was something missing. At the end of class, despite the fact that it had all gone well, I felt a hole. I missed the buzz of quiet conversation as I entered the classroom, the crinkle of students opening their potato chip bags, and my ability to walk around the room in a way that helped me emphasize a point, clarify a concept or ask a hard question. 

“So while we embrace this great pivot and figure out how to learn together while physically apart, let us allow for the full range of emotions that this entails. As Flower Darby of Northern Arizona University wrote of faculty in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “At some point, they will need time to mourn the loss of spring 2020.” And so as the dogwoods reach full bloom out of my dining room window and I prepare for my 3:05 class today, I try to embrace it all. I invite you to as well. Now… Back to Zoom.”

– Eric Mlyn, Lecturer in the Sanford School of Public Policy and Distinguished Faculty Fellow in the Kenan Institute for Ethics

March 30

“This screenshot was taken by a student while they were waiting for me to show up in class on Monday. I was somehow in a different Zoom room waiting for them, while they were all together. It took me a while to figure out how to join them, and while they were waiting, they learned how to set different backgrounds to their photos.

“I have found the transition to be relatively seamless, in part because the students in my class have been so flexible (one signs in at 7am and one at 10pm!). So far, I’ve enjoyed using the breakout rooms, which offer more opportunities for discussion, and am looking forward to seeing how students take the helm next week when we continue with our class presentations. It’s definitely reassuring to see their smiling faces on the screen – I’d missed them over the two week break!” 

– Deb Reisinger, Associate Professor of the Practice of Romance Studies and Associate Director of Markets and Management Studies

April 1

“Classes resumed for our university last week, after two weeks of frantically working with faculty to transition their courses online. We held our collective breath as hundreds of Zoom meetings commenced throughout the day. 

“I checked into 14 of them, ensuring that my colleagues had things set up and under control. I felt like I had won a golden ticket, really. I got sneak peeks at GIS labs, discussions about energy policy, and lectures on marine conservation leadership. If I had more time, I would have lingered to learn more.

“Professors welcomed their students back to class, acknowledged the weirdness of this semester, pointed out resources for health care, and offered to help students navigate challenges of finishing their work. I was struck by the sincerity of their offers to help.

“After we finished and began to breathe a collective sigh of relief, I asked my colleagues to reflect on their first day back to school.” 

– Rebecca Vidra, Senior Lecturer & Director of Duke Environmental Leadership (DEL) Program

April 3

“Our @DukeU@EshipAtDuke #LearningToFail students had their first team-based remote-learning failure challenge today: With your breakout group, create a 2-minute video, in one hour, on the topic of motivation. They made magic happen!” 

“Our students worked together (synchronously) remotely today in small teams to collaboratively ‘map’ core class concepts. I continue to be so deeply impressed with their ability to create, collaborate, co-author, and come together online”

– Amanda Starling Gould, Senior Program Coordinator of Educational Programs & Digital Humanities and Co-Director of Story+

April 8

“I find MS Teams to be a great tool for remote communications in my project-based class. Since it is both asynchronous and permanent, the students and I can jot down thoughts / questions / comments / answers / status anywhere at any time. I have Teams on both my phone and laptop, so I never miss an urgent question from students. People ask “isn’t that what Piazza is for?” and I respond “Not exactly”. We still use Piazza in my class (software programming class) for general Q&A – things that may be applicable to anyone in the class. “I use Teams as almost a project log – all our conversations are logged, as well as any files we exchange. This is not only helpful for me when I grade at the end of the semester, but also to the student who knows there is one place with all interactions with the professor. It has taken the place of Slack, which I used to use in classes.”

– Ric Telford, Executive in Residence in the Pratt School of Engineering

April 10

“Seeing my students engaging on Zoom and in our Slack workspaces with thoughtful and rigorous discussions is so heartening. None of us signed up to not see each other in person this semester, but it gives me hope to see the community continuing.”

– Kateri Salk, Visiting Assistant Professor of Water Resources

April 14

“I love teaching in Zoom. The students are all in front of you and I just found it to be fascinating. It opens up new ways of teaching and strengthening teaching. 

“We’ve also now had two meetings of the Sanford faculty. I think they’re among the best meetings we’ve ever had… I think people monitor themselves better when they’re on Zoom – how much they choose to say and what they say. I thought the two meetings were terrific. 

“I’ve also used Zoom for two meetings of a corporate board that I’m on. Same thing is true. I’ve never shied away from doing things over the internet. But I will tell you that I think the Zoom platform is by far the best one I’ve ever dealt with.”

– Prof. Joel Fleishman, Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

April 22

“As we approach the last day of classes of this semester that we will always remember, I am aware of some new and conflicting feelings about this time of year. Usually, the end of classes is a time of some relief for faculty. The intensity of teaching and grading can be a lot, and the end can often signal a welcome return to having some time to work on research, read that pile of books in the corner of our office, or generally put energy into long delayed projects. But this year feels different…”

Continue reading Eric Mlyn’s reflection on the semester.

April 29

“My students have adapted gracefully to our Zoom classes — they’ve been engaged as if we were together in our classroom in the Ruby. This past week the students made their final presentations and expertly shared their projects via Zoom. I gave the students the option of presenting live or recording in advance (thanks to the Keep Teaching team for guidelines on how to do that!) and both formats have worked well.”

– Eric Oberstein, Interim Director of Duke Performances

May 6

“In lieu of in-class presentations, students presented their final group projects through video. Each group recorded the presentation using the software of their choice (many groups used Zoom) and embedded the video in a conversation in the Sakai discussion forum. Every student was randomly assigned three presentations; after watching a presentation, they posted a question about the group’s analysis. I was very impressed by the presentations and the questions students asked. They did a really nice job adapting to the new presentation format, and it was fun to see some groups include creative technical elements in their videos. Because there weren’t time constraints, as there are with in-class presentations, students had more time to come up with thoughtful questions that showed their understanding of the course material. This format also gave every student an opportunity to share their thoughts and ask questions. Overall, I was really pleased with how the presentations went, and I’ll likely continue doing video presentations even when we’re back in the classroom.”

– Maria Tackett, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Statistical Science