New Ideas Amid Chaotic Times

masked faculty member teaching students
Faculty member Karen Rickel masks up for in-person classes

September 03, 2020
Dale Goodwin ('86)

Ethicist and Associate Philosophy Professor Ellen Maccarone likens preparing to teach in the pandemic to cooking from her grandma’s cookbook . . . “What is a pinch of this or a dash of that?

“The landscape is changing often and it is unknown from day to day,” she says. Nevertheless, Gonzaga’s 460 faculty members are preparing to launch into a fall semester like no other in the University’s 134 years.

Significantly, everyone is learning new things, whether they are teaching remotely and getting acquainted with new technology and software applications, or learning how to project better while wearing face coverings before a scattered group of students waiting to be engaged.

But it doesn’t come without concerns. Chemistry and Biochem Assistant Professor Shannen Cravens suffers from asthma. The thought of teaching six hours a week in her lab makes her uncomfortable. In addition, as a junior faculty member in her third year at GU, at a time when her research and professional development should be reaching a crescendo, her work is stunted by fear of COVID-19 and its potential impact on her and her research students.

But she’s grateful to be at a place that honors its faculty with a voice that is heard. “Serving on the Academic instruction and Learning Committee of the Pandemic Response Task Force, I was able to listen to fellow faculty members, and our committee was able to address many concerns. Back in early July, the University was planning the vast majority of classes to be face-to-face. The faculty expressed their discomfort with that and needed more flexibility. President (Thayne) McCulloh responded by giving the choice of teaching modality back to the faculty,” Cravens says.

3 separate photos of individuals

L to R: Maccarone, Cravens, Dodd (and Zoom-bomber)


Cravens chose to teach her two lecture classes fully remotely as it would have been difficult to facilitate group work in a classroom with physical distancing and masks. “With Zoom, I can put students in breakout rooms, and they will have the chance to work with and get to know different people throughout the semester,” she says.

“On a positive note, I appreciate how this campus community has come together in the wake of the pandemic. We had 20 faculty members from different disciplines on our Task Force committee and formed a single mind, that being: We are here to create the best experience for our students. That makes me want to build my career here,” Cravens says.

English Assistant Professor Jeff Dodd sees the University being very active in doing its best for its faculty. “I think the frustrations some faculty are feeling come from mixed messages, or when students learn about what we are doing before faculty are notified. Time to plan for this semester was inhibited by the University’s lack of clear directives early on. Part of this is normal complaining, part of it legit, I think. But things are changing daily, so I think most can understand,” Dodd says.

He has learned new teaching platforms that he says will definitely improve his class delivery. “There’s this whiteboard app called Miro. It’s really dynamic. It allows students to work on the same whiteboard, whether they’re in a classroom or on screen, and all can contribute. This pandemic and changes in modality offer us a chance to catch up with technology and teaching innovations that have developed over the past decade.”

Dodd was hailed by Task Force committee chairs as a significant contributor to fall planning, but he credits our community. “Faculty and support staff are committed to providing the highly engaged Ignatian education that students and families have come to expect, regardless of teaching delivery methods. The vast majority of faculty are moving forward intentionally to create for their students the full Gonzaga experience,” he says.

Maccarone echoed those sentiments: “Given some enormous constraints, while it’s a lot of work, what our faculty are doing is serving our students in the way they deserve to be served.”

Read other COVID-related stories of challenge and resiliency at Gonzaga.