Ridwan Sakidja

"Transitioning to a possible online course in electron microscopy @PAMSatMSU @CNASatMSU @MissouriState via @zoom_us, giving our students the capability to run the microscope & analyze samples using the EDS detector @OxInst remotely. #electronmicroscopy" read physics professor Ridwan Sakidja's Twitter post on Friday, March 13.

On Tuesday, March 18, Missouri State sent out a mass email announcing spring break will be extended through March 27 and all in-person classes beginning March 30 will be taught through “alternative means.”

What exactly are “alternative means” and how will some departments, which rely on hands-on teaching move forward?

Department of Physics, Astronomy and Materials Science

Ridwan Sakidja, professor in the department of physics, astronomy and materials sciences, said one of his courses, Techniques in Electron Microscopy, will be impacted greatly by the transition to online classes.

According to Sakidja, the course is divided into four segments. Students learn about specific topics related to the electron microscope and sample preparation, where samples are prepared to be analyzed under the microscope, before running the microscope via a computer and completing analysis of their sample findings. 

On Friday, March 13, Sakidja tweeted an image of himself testing the capability of teaching the course online, using Zoom, a video conferencing website.

Zoom also allows screen sharing and remote control. Screen sharing would allow students to see Sakidja’s computer desktop screen on their own computer. Remote control would allow them to run his desktop from their own device. Because the electron microscope is controlled on a computer, this feature allows students to utilize the microscope and analyze samples from home. 

Sakidja said he began testing the idea about two weeks ago, before the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Greene County.

The room where the electron microscope is located is a small, confined space, Sakidja said. For this specific course, his class sizes are around 15 students. He said he breaks the class into two or four groups, because only a small number of students can fit into the microscope room at once. 

“The good thing about doing this online (is) now, I can have all of the students basically watch the online session simultaneously,” Sakidja said. “There’s only one person who’s going to run the microscope, but there’s no difference between that and the regular teaching.”

Using Zoom, students will have more time to run the microscope than they did during their seated class and be able to watch the analysis of samples in greater detail, he said. 

Sakidja said he will have to compromise portions of the course, including sample preparation, because students won’t be physically in class to prepare samples on their own. However, he said he continues to find a silver lining in the situation. 

“There’s a positive upside, in the sense that if you restructure your course to be adaptable, you can actually in some way strengthen a part of your curriculum,” Sakidja said. “It is obviously something everybody has to get used to, but I really think at the end we’ll come out ahead.”

Sakidja said his department’s office will remain open, including the electron microscope room for students conducting research.

Department of Art and Design

Vonda Yarberry, art and design department head, began meeting with faculty and staff on March 13 to prepare for the remainder of the semester.

“The majority of classes at Brick City are all seated, face-to-face and many of them are equipment intensive, Yarberry said. “We have so many great facilities all of our curriculum is based around, so when you think about taking our classes and suddenly changing their delivery, that’s a big ask for our faculty.”

Despite this challenge, Yarberry said she’s pleasantly surprised with the creative ideas her faculty are coming up with.

According to Yarberry, drawing and painting professor Sean Lyman’s initial response was to set up private Facebook groups for his students. Students could share images of their work — in progress and finalized — in the group, along with virtual critiques through text threads and video.

A resource Yarberry and her faculty are utilizing is an open Facebook group called Online Art and Design Studio Instruction in the Age of “Social Distancing.” The group includes over 7,000 members from across the globe who share assignment examples and advice.

Besides drawing and painting, foundation courses and classes within the digital design and computer animation majors can be completed from home, for the most part, Yarberry said.

However, there are a few areas in the department Yarberry said she is concerned with, including ceramics.

“While anyone can buy clay and work with clay anywhere — where clay would not provide a hazard — it’s that the clay would actually have to then be transported to a kiln and be fired and there’s many other processes that go along with that, which are not very run-of-the-mill,” Yarberry said. “(That is not) equipment anyone would have in their home usually.”

Other areas of concern include sculpture, metals and jewelry, printmaking and darkroom-related photography courses.

Similar to the work done in ceramics, Yarberry said students may be able to complete the preliminary steps of coursework, but wouldn’t be able to because the majority of students don’t have access to the necessary equipment, such as woodworking machinery for sculpture, a printing press for printmaking or a light-tight, well-ventilated space for darkroom photography. 

As for studio space at Brick City, Yarberry said she will be in contact with faculty to assess which students absolutely need the studio facilities, for instances such as graduating on time. By the time of publication, Yarberry said the department does not have a concrete plan set in place for how students will be able to access the facilities.

Students also have the ability to take an incomplete in any of their courses. According to Yarberry, an incomplete is an agreement between a professor and student for what is required to complete a course and a date by which the required material or content will be completed.

Yarberry said the department will accommodate graduating seniors.

“I’ve been at Missouri State since 1989 and there’s always been this loosely held but very firmly strong belief that we will do what we need to help our seniors graduate,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to find a substitution for a senior who needs a credit but cannot for some reason complete it. So, I think we are going to be evaluating all kinds of circumstances to help meet the needs of our students. That’s just the bottom line.”

As of now, the Bachelor of Fine Arts Senior Exhibition and Electronic Arts Student Showcase are still on the schedule for the later portion of April and early May, respectively. Yarberry said faculty are exploring alternative options for both events.

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