Back in the Classroom: Reflections on a Year of Remote Instructional Support

Like most universities, FSU will be returning to pre-pandemic levels of in-person classes and services for the Fall 2021 semester. The Special Collections & Archives Reading Rooms will be open to students and researchers and we will begin to offer in-person instruction sessions again. We are excited to apply the new skills we have developed over the past year of remote instruction to upcoming in-person or virtual sessions, as well as continue to develop more activities to introduce and support primary source literacy at FSU and beyond.

I served as the FSU Special Collections & Archives Graduate Assistant from August 2019 through May 2021, with the last year of my assistantship taking place virtually due to the pandemic. A lot of my work for that year was devoted to providing support for the SCA instruction program, and let me tell you, it was quite a year.

Educators worldwide had to scramble to accommodate the abrupt transition from in-person instruction to virtual instruction. Like everyone else, we had to learn the ins and outs of Zoom, along with other technologies and platforms rather quickly. Most of our activities could be modified to accommodate this new method of instruction. But how can the details of materials that are meant to be opened, flipped through, touched, smelled, and heard be appropriately conveyed through a computer screen? It is difficult, but not impossible. Here is how we accomplished it in FSU Special Collections & Archives.

In-person Instruction Sessions held in the Special Collections & Archives Classroom in Strozier Library

We were able to continue to provide personalized sessions tailored to the subjects and topics covered within the class. Instead of our typical in-person sessions, we offered instructors the choice of a virtual class facilitated by SCA faculty and staff or a module of materials and activities that could be integrated into the course outside of a typical class meeting. Materials and activities for all sessions were delivered via Canvas, the course management system used at FSU.

Digital Materials

Screenshot of the record for the Sermones discipuli in DigiNole. Includes detailed photographs of the book.

As a division, we are fortunate to have our own Digital Library Center that is responsible for digitizing a portion of our physical materials to make them available online. Remember, it’s NOT all online.

At the start of the pandemic we were able to turn to the materials that had already been digitized and loaded into DigiNole: FSU’s digital repository. Once safety protocols and procedures had been established for staff to return to campus, the DLC was able to prioritize the digitization of materials to support instruction.

The Sermones discipuli, commonly referred to in SCA as the “chain book”, is often used in instruction sessions because it is an excellent example of what can be learned from the book as an object, instead of focusing solely on the content within. This book had already been digitized and we were able to direct students to high-quality photos of the text as well as the binding, covers, and accessories that make this particular book so interesting.

Document Camera

The division was able to acquire two document cameras to use for remote instruction and reference. The doc cams enabled SCA faculty to show materials and zoom in on details during synchronous class sessions as well as to record video “tours” of specific materials for use in asynchronous instruction.

Video of BX1756 H448 S4 Sermones discipuli

Rachel Duke, FSU Rare Books Librarian, used the doc cam to create videos of many books commonly used in SCA instruction sessions. The videos allow students to view the books as three-dimensional objects beyond the images available in the FSU Digital Library. She created a video of the Sermones discipuli that can be viewed in conjunction with the DigiNole record (shown above).

Canvas/Learning Management System

A learning management system, or LMS, is basically the software used to actually deliver the information to the student. FSU uses Canvas as a way for instructors to share materials, assignments, course schedules, and other resources with students; another example of a commonly-used LMS is Google Classroom.

In the course of a year, SCA went from having zero presence within Canvas to developing 21 modules on a variety of topics and leading roughly 50 virtual instruction sessions.

One of my responsibilities has been to organize and develop content within Canvas to support the remote instruction efforts of the division.

Some of my work has been to clean up the modules that have been created for specific classes to prepare them for sharing to the Canvas Commons. This involves removing any student names or other identifiers and adding more contextual information, links, and activity instructions.

SCA is continuing to develop resources within Canvas to support our instruction efforts but is also exploring methods for sharing instructional materials beyond the FSU community.

Moving Forward

We are excited to once again share SCA materials with students, faculty, and researchers from within the FSU community and beyond. Instead of lamenting a year of lost opportunities, I am marveling at the new skills I have learned and the confidence I have gained in navigating new technologies.

If you are interested in incorporating a visit to Special Collections & Archives into your syllabus, please fill out our Class Visit request form:

Published by Kristin Hagaman

Research Services Associate, Special Collections & Archives, Florida State University Libraries

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