Stages of Acceptance and Hope

Greg Hopper is an Adjunct Professor in the Master of Engineering Management Program in the Pratt School of Engineering, where he teaches EGRMGNT 542, “Competitive Strategies in Technology-based Industries.” Here, he shares his thoughts on facing continued challenges to his teaching in fall 2020 semester:

Picture of Greg Hopper
Greg Hopper

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” goes the ancient proverb. Transforming a traditional, lecture-centric, in-person class into a valuable, enriching virtual learning experience is a journey of at least a thousand miles – or so it seemed! And I had no idea how to take the first step.

At the end of the last semester, we made do. I used some “flipped classroom” ideas, like asking the students to watch Panopto recordings from last semester, assigning a homework case, and having a team presentation followed by discussion of the recording. I held a debate between two teams for the final class of the semester, which was fun but not as much fun as in person. It worked – the final exams were great.

I thought of this as a temporary phenomenon to which we must respond, and I think we did a good job. However, as time wore on, it looked more and more like the fall semester was to be delivered remotely. This is a daunting challenge and dealing with it has been a soul-searching experience.

I’ll admit to some self-doubt about my ability to do it, and I guess I’ve gone through some stages of despair. First, there was reaction (the end of last semester). Then there was the hope that we’d return to normal. Then came confusion and not knowing what to do. Back to taking that first step.

I’m a natural optimist, so I told myself that this was a creative design exercise and I needed to learn new things. One of my teaching assistants recommended a book to me called “ThinkerToys”, and I applied some of the creativity techniques to the challenge.

One of the exercises early in the book was to write down constraints (or assumptions) about the project you are undertaking. I wrote these:
• Content must be delivered in the allotted class time
• Class must meet for 2h45m each week
• My interpretation of the literature is critical to the learning objective
(The last one was particularly difficult for me to acknowledge, to be honest.) But looking at them helped me realize that this was a big opportunity. Duke Learning Innovation and my colleagues on the MEM faculty have shared experiences and resources that knocked loose a whole range of ideas!

My goal is to move from a “sage on the stage” model to a “guide on the side.” There are tons of resources out there on how to use articles, videos, podcasts, simulations, games, etc. A key realization is that we don’t have to do this alone – in fact, one of my colleagues in the MEM Program said that he has his students assist in the design of the course and assignments.

I’m excited and determined and challenged to create an all-new, great learning experience. I may be only a few feet into the journey, but now those thousand miles don’t look so long. I just needed to take that single step.