PETAL prepares Department of English faculty for fall semester

"Pandemic Engaged Teaching and Learning" summer workshops helped prepare English Department faculty to teach disciplinary courses creatively and effectively this fall in hybrid online/in-person environments.

When English Department Chair Jean Schwind formed the PETAL (Pandemic Engaged Teaching and Learning) Task Force in May, she was doubtful about the acronym. It sounded too cute and inappropriately upbeat for an initiative tied to a worldwide health crisis.  She expected it to suffer the fate of “fetch” in “Mean Girls” (“Gretchen, stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen! It’s not going to happen!”).

But the name stuck, and PETAL did happen this summer. Supported by funding from the English Department, Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Center for Engaged Teaching and Learning, PETAL offered a series of workshops to prepare department faculty to teach disciplinary courses creatively and effectively this fall in hybrid online/in-person environments. The first workshop, “Classroom Pedagogies for Hybrid Teaching,” held July 13 and led by Assistant Professor of English Jennifer Eidum, focused on identifying core teaching values and adopting practices strongly aligned with those values.

“You really have to know what you want to achieve in a course—What is truly important for students to know and be able to do? — in order to effectively adapt it to an online platform,” Eidum explained.

“Technologies for Building Community Online,” led on July 23 by English Lecturer Margaret Chapman and Assistant Professor of English Heather Lindenman, introduced faculty to software that promotes class discussion (GroupMe and Medium); close, critical reading (; and collaborative writing (Canva and Microsoft Teams). A document created by workshop participants, “Assessing Teaching Technologies,” which analyzes the “embedded values” of various teaching technologies and the learning goals that they support, will appear on Teaching and Learning Technologies’ Flexible and Resilient Teaching website.

The final workshop on July 27, “Good Practices for Hybrid Teaching,” was directed by Assistant Professor of English Craig Morehead and Nicole Galante ’19, a graduate student in Elon’s Master of Arts in Higher Education program. They explored the special challenges and opportunities of online learning environments.

For example, Morehead cited research indicating the tendency to “over-architecture” student engagement in online courses: instructors present students with a series of tasks with assigned point values, and fail to leave room for the spontaneous exchanges that promote genuine community. Galante stressed that teaching at a time of personal and national trauma will require renewed and redoubled commitment to a cornerstone of the Elon experience: “forthright faculty care and concern for students and the contexts in which they find themselves.”

Co-chaired by Chapman and Eidum, the PETAL task force includes eight English faculty (Steve Braye, Dan Burns, Li Li, Heather Lindenman, Kathy Lyday, Craig Morehead Kim Pyne, Paula Patch), two current English majors (Emily Lange and Anne-Tillery Melson), and Nicole Galante (a 2019 Elon English alumna as well as an MHE graduate student). Twenty-four English Department faculty attended the summer workshops.