Foresight, teamwork and long hours helped Public Health flip the switch

In the span of just a few weeks, everything seems to have changed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Everything, that is, except the drive of the Ohio State community to fulfill its academic mission. These stories of resolve show the unique resilience of Buckeyes in the face of unprecedented challenges.

  • Tom Rinderle
April 6, 2020
(Left to right) Michael Bisesi, Margaret Murphy and Dean Amy Fairchild.
(Left to right) Michael Bisesi, Margaret Murphy and Dean Amy Fairchild.

Apart from the hard work and long hours involved in moving 69 Public Health courses online, Margaret Murphy’s biggest challenge at the start of the coronavirus emergency was resetting her expectations. The urgency of the situation meant she had to focus on utility, not perfection.

“I had to adjust my brain and reframe the goal,” said Murphy, who has worked as an instructional designer at the College of Public Health for five years. “The need in front of me was to help our instructors teach from a distance in ways that, for some, were very different than what they were used to. I had to accept that this wasn’t about trying to achieve the highest quality online course ever offered.”

She had help achieving her “mind shift,” as she calls it, from a small group of instructional designers with whom she has talked daily for about a year as part of Microsoft Teams chat group — Jay Hsiao from Veterinary Medicine; DiAnna PalmerKelley Cupp and Byron Roush from Social Work; Aaron Carpenter from the John Glenn College of Public Affairs; and Elizabeth Flansburg-Cruz, who joined Murphy earlier this year and splits her time with Veterinary Medicine.

“They’re my buddies and my lifeline and my support,” she said. “Leaning on other people for help and hugs and high-fives, that’s essential.” Because she did, she and the other instructional designers in the group began tracking COVID-19 developments in early February — well before the outbreak took hold in Ohio —and started brainstorming how to provide the training and support needed to move courses online.

As events unfolded and began picking up speed, Murphy also leaned on the rock-solid support of her dean, Amy Fairchild.

“Above all, I’ve been impressed by Margaret’s introspection and critical – but always helpful – reflection back to me,” Fairchild said. “Whenever I run a faculty or staff meeting or retreat, I’ve come to learn that Margaret will always give me feedback that makes me the best person I can be as a teacher. What a pleasure it is to be her biggest cheerleader.”

Murphy and Flansburg-Cruz began their work by evaluating all the Public Health courses (save for the 11 already online) for their readiness to convert to distance education. What they found was a continuum of need.

Some courses weren’t even on CarmenCanvas yet. Some courses that were on Canvas had a lot of content but no overview pages and no information on how to guide students through the course. “This is essential,” she said, “because putting files up on Canvas without guidance is akin to handing students a giant chunk of paper and then just walking away.”

Next, Murphy and Flansburg-Cruz created a template in Canvas for each of the 69 courses so the instructors could build online modules. In addition, they built a succinct college-specific resource site for faculty and staff to complement, and they started a blog to share advice.

“For faculty, the challenge isn’t only how to use Canvas or how to give a quiz or how to give a lecture using Zoom,” she said. “It’s really about trying to figure out who you are as an online instructor. From my conversations with faculty, I think that’s the biggest piece. It’s almost like developing a new identity.”

“And that’s why I’m so proud of our faculty. Many people were a bit scared by this, but they did it and did it with patience and grace.  They challenged themselves and pushed themselves for the sake of our students. It’s just awesome.”

And how does Murphy sum up her effort? “I’m working a lot of crazy-long hours, but so is everybody else. This is my job. It’s just that my job is a bit intensified now.”

Originally published on Office of Academic Affairs "Stories of Resolve".


About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond.  The College's divisions include biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health promotion, and health services management and policy.   It is ranked 19th among all colleges of public health in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report, and also includes the top 7-ranked MHA degree program.  The College provides leadership and expertise for Ohio and the world through its Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Evaluation Studies (HOPES) and Center for Public Health Practice (CPHP).