Catherine Kuo: adapting to many circumstances

Catherine K. Kuo, associate professor of biomedical engineering, is teaching two courses this semester, including one on biomaterials for up to 100 undergraduates, including students that have returned to Egypt, Kazakhstan, and China.

catherine kuoHere are her comments as she prepares for the transition to online classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

“I may be an expert in how biomechanical factors influence musculoskeletal tissue development in utero, but I am far from savvy with online technology,” Kuo says. “I spent the entire weekend learning how to use Zoom and Panopto with Blackboard for the first time.”

She is concentrating on several issues, such as how to accommodate students who are from disadvantaged situations and may not have access to the internet or computers; how to be a comfort to students; how to avoid reducing content or quality of instruction; how to revise the syllabus, exams, labs, lab reports, and grading schemes; and how to remotely redirect research projects for undergrads taking research for credit.

“My amazing laboratory instructor Kanika Vats and 6 graduate teaching assistants (Jane Yuanjing Zhang, Kyle Cooper, Conor Shanahan, Samuel Walker, Julia Waltermire, Ming Yan) also do not have prior experience with this,” Kuo says. “But I know I can continue to rely on them during these unexpected and stressful times – they are amazing.”

Some of her students are in time zones 12 hours different from here “and every student’s access to resources is different when off-campus – they are stressed about this, understandably,” she says.

So, she will:

  • try to make available recorded and written materials online so that students have multiple options to access lecture content.
  • run online Discussion Boards for those who cannot stream videos.
  • continue to hold scheduled office hours via Zoom – but may try to offer early morning and late evening hours to accommodate time zone differences.

“I am worried about how much more inefficient electronic communication will be for teaching compared to in-person interactions. I depend on students’ facial expressions and body language as much as I do verbal feedback and hand-raising to guide the amount of time and detail I spend on a topic – this sometimes dramatically shifts the lecture schedule because I would rather they understand things deeply than cover more content superficially,” Kuo says. “On the other hand, I am setting up online Discussion Boards for each topic and thinking some students may feel bolder about asking questions with this online format, which could be a silver lining.”