When COVID upended our lives in Spring 2020, the Honors Center had to quickly decide whether to cancel Celebrate Carroll 2020 or move it online. Dr. Massimo Rondolino, Associate Dean for the Honors Center and host of Celebrate Carroll, chose to make it a virtual event in order to support the students and faculty who had already planned on presenting as part of their spring courses and capstones. The challenge: creating a virtual event on the fly using Canvas, which is not designed as an event platform.
To kick off Celebrate Carroll 2021, three faculty members -- Dr. Rondolino, Dr. Jenni Huck, and Dr. Joe Piatt -- join two students -- Ashley Labodda and Alec Wendland -- to share their reflections on last year's experiment.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Dr. Jenni Huck: Research provides us tools to move forward by understanding the world that occurred behind us. Hands-on projects help students appreciate science and see the difficulties and conundrums that occur in creating science while building knowledge. Celebrate Carroll is an important venue for sharing the knowledge students gain in this process.
Dr. Joe Piatt: In Spring 2020 I was mentoring two students who had completed research as part of the CHE402 capstone course. By this point their data collection was completed and we were working on data analysis and writing. Celebrate Carroll gives us a venue for sharing this kind of advanced student work.
Dr. Massimo Rondolino (Max): We needed a platform that made presentations possible, was broadly accessible, and had an easy learning curve. Canvas was the only platform all students and instructors had experience with, and it offered the flexibility to set up a virtual asynchronous “showcase.” But Canvas is not designed for a virtual conference, so we weren’t sure how it would work. Our biggest “gamble” was choosing to register all presenters (students and faculty) as “teachers” with full editing rights. As organizers, this was the only way we could manage our workload. Yet doing so also meant trusting that everyone would exclusively tinker with only their own presentations. It worked – and what a testament to the character of our student population!
Ashley Labodda: In the spring of 2020, I presented an essay I had written for an ethics class I had taken in the previous year titled “Proximity, Relations, and Moral Obligations.” Instead of making an oral presentation, I created a PowerPoint presentation with an embedded video recording that explained the slides and essay. I then uploaded that full presentation into my assigned module on Canvas. Learning to narrate a PowerPoint presentation and embed a video was challenging, but it was easy to upload into Canvas given I had been using it since my first year at Carroll.
Alec Wendland: As a student, I was happy to have the opportunity to present a mathematical proof I had been working on for two years. Given the sudden switch to a virtual format, I did my best to keep my presentation as understandable and accessible as possible. I made a Beamer presentation (LaTeX’s version of PowerPoint) and recorded myself presenting it as I would have had the conference been held in person. I found the process of recording a video presentation to be a bit of a challenge – from learning new technology, to the actual recording, to editing the presentation after it was recorded.
Max: I learned two important lessons. First, that by trusting fellow students and being clear about the task and its challenges, we can empower everyone. Great things can come from collaborative and mutually respectful work – this, to me, is a mark of true professionalism! We are now adopting a similar approach to involve Honors students in co-running Honors operations and initiatives.
I also learned that Canvas can be used to do more than it is designed for, allowing us to integrate in a single campus-wide platform a plurality of activities and events. For example, we have now set up an Honors page on Canvas which is being piloted as the Honors student hub, and is mainly managed and run by students.
Jenni: We started a project in Spring 2020 that was delayed due to COVID-19. But we stayed connected via video conferencing and continued working during the summer. Then in Fall 2020 we presented virtually at the Wisconsin Sociological Association. Currently five students are working on the project, only two of whom are Carroll students. Going virtual allowed me to broaden participation and ask students from other universities to join us.
In addition, interactive, hands-on projects show students you trust them to engage and create. Students will learn with you and sometimes that is the purpose.
Joe: I learned to trust student preference in terms of adjusting to a new work environment and mode of communication and collaboration. I also gained confidence that the technology does work effectively and was worth the investment of time. Using the Microsoft Teams environment for file sharing and editing was positive for me and the students. They noted that it made everyone more accountable for timely contributions to the manuscript and the associated poster.
Ashley: As we are now past the year anniversary of COVID’s beginnings, a lot of what we do on a day-to-day basis has been adapted to operate either entirely online or with a virtual option. If this pandemic had occurred 50 years ago, we would not have been able to switch to an online format.
Technology has allowed us adaptability we didn’t necessarily know we would need, and this pandemic challenged students, faculty, and academic institutions to discover novel ways of using technology to their advantage. Nothing beats an in-person oral presentation with a live audience, but this opportunity forced me to consider how to use technology to my advantage in a world that is becoming increasingly technologically-equipped.
Alec: Above anything else, I learned the value associated with being flexible and adaptable in a work and learning environment. The pandemic forced everyone to adjust to learning and working in a completely new setting. I was skeptical that the end result of my project would turn out to be something I was happy with, but I found the experience of presenting in a virtual format to be equally as rewarding as presenting in person. The virtual format created an opportunity to use more creative presentation styles beyond the routine slideshow or poster presentations at in-person conferences.
Max: Do it, it can be done, and you will be surprised by what Canvas can deliver (if within its own design limits). Mostly, though, trust your students and involve them as collaborators.
Joe: As more folks are saying, if you “lean into” the technology there will be a payoff in effectiveness and efficiency.
Alec: Trust your students and value their input and feedback! From my perspective as a student, most students are capable of adapting to new technology relatively quickly. Finding ways to incorporate student feedback and make projects more interactive can be a major motivator.
Last year's event was so successful, and so much was uncertain about planning this Spring, that we stayed with this format for a second year. Come check out this year's new research and presenters at Celebrate Carroll 2021, starting April 14.
The showcase is accessible to all CU community members with a university email address. The site will remain live for the reminder of the semester, giving everyone in our Carroll community time to visit and view presentations and posters. Hope to "see" you there!