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The Connection Remains

Faculty find ways to keep personal touch part of online courses
Story Series

Bridgewater State University professors Sarah Thomas and James Hayes-Bohanan teach classes that thrive on face-to-face interaction. With the move to online instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re implementing ingenious solutions to retain that personal connection with students with the help of technology and some generous BSU alumni.

“I’ve been wracking my brain around how to make it engaging,” said Thomas, who teaches an education class that normally brings Bridgewater students to Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School.

Hayes-Bohanan, a geography professor, added: “I’m being as creative as I can to make sure there is still interaction and still a valued learning experience.”

Thomas, an associate professor in the Department of Secondary Education and Professional Programs, found BSU alumni who would share their experiences with current students. She is using videos of teachers at work to replace in-classroom observation. And, through social media, Thomas lined up educators willing to be interviewed by students taking an introductory class.

“Teachers in general are very giving, but I’ve been completely blown away,” she said.

Students also continue using Mursion, a virtual reality program that lets them interact with lifelike avatars that fill the role of pupils. 

Bears taking Hayes-Bohanan’s second-year seminar The Secret Life of Coffee were planning a tasting event that, in prior years, attracted hundreds of people. Instead, they will create digital presentations to be shared online with links to where to buy coffee.

Dr. Sarah Thomas works with her children.

“None of us would have chosen this and we all have to give ourselves a little bit of flexibility,” he said. “What we’re trying to learn and teach is still very important, but we have to accept that it’s going to be different.”

Thomas, with cameo appearances by her two children, video conferences with students, sometimes just to check in on how they are doing. Those who interact with Hayes-Bohanan may see his cute miniature pinscher, Perry.

Both professors encourage students to stay positive.

“We’re just a phone call or an email away,” Thomas said. “We’re all in it together. They should not feel alone.”

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