Different method, same mission

Terry College quickly pivoted to remote instruction, using new tools and novel ideas to foster learning and unity during challenging times

Ed Morales | May. 29, 2020

April was to be the busiest month.

The Terry College had prepared a packed calendar for this first spring with the Business Learning Community complete. Guest speakers and Employers of the Day were scheduled to dole out career advice (and sometimes chicken biscuits). Pitch competitions were on deck, study rooms were booked, and Honors Day was primed to fête some 70 students. Close to 9,000 Terry students had classes and recruiting events to attend, student organizations meetings to go to, and mentors to meet.

But none of that happened. What was to be a bustling campus was quieted by the coronavirus pandemic, the only movement coming from the flourishing flora in the bright spring sun. Instead the purpose of the place — the mission to educate future business leaders — moved to living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms in the homes of Terry students, faculty, and staff at all points of Athens, the state of Georgia, and beyond.

“The Terry College strives to provide students with the best possible education to prepare our graduates to lead in their professions and serve in their communities, and that mission doesn’t change,” says Terry Dean Benjamin C. Ayers. “We were in an environment where we had to transition to remote instruction in a short time, and we had much to accomplish in an adverse situation. Like many businesses navigating the pandemic, we made a quick pivot to continue serving our community. Different method, same mission. We focused on two priorities — the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and larger community, and our mission — which helped foster unity and clarity during a challenging time.”

Since March 30, when Terry joined the campus community in moving all courses to online instruction, much was accomplished to make the school year’s final month as seamless as possible.
It hasn’t been without glitches, and it revealed the disparate access to Internet and technology imperfections, which occurs when the college population is located all over the map.

But with online instruction slated for summer classes as well, the process has been pretty smooth for such a large undertaking.

“It’s been positive, Terry has done a good job with the cards it’s been dealt,” says Emily Bauer, a fourth-year student double majoring in finance and risk management. “It’s not a situation anyone wanted to happen, and I think everybody at Terry would rather be there in person. But it hasn’t been a disadvantage at all, everyone has been open and willing to work with you.”

• • •

While Terry’s Office of Information Technology gave faculty guidance for online instruction and working from home, the college’s academic advisors were at the forefront. Spring is a busy time for advisors as students register for fall and clear up schedules for summer, and having all advising appointments handled remotely is no easy feat.

“When the decision was made to move to online instruction, our advisors were some of the first UGA staff members to immediately switch from on-campus to working at a distance,” says Laura Clark, Terry’s director of undergraduate programs. “UGA’s Office of Academic Advising and Terry’s Undergraduate Programs Office provided suggestions for best practices regarding remote advising, and the advisors quickly pivoted. They set up home offices, using their computer equipment from campus, and sometimes supplementing with items from home. They established a plan that would work well for them and their students, advising via email, phone, Zoom — or sometimes a combination.”

Diana Beckett, an academic advisor in the Department of Economics, says it’s been hectic from the get-go with a pace that doesn’t seem to wane.

“It’s been very busy, we hit the ground running right after spring break, trying to get a handle on how many students we needed to see and what methods would work for us,” Beckett says. She advises about 400 students each semester. “It was important for us to quickly pivot. If we weren’t able to conduct our academic advising until they were back in school, we wouldn’t have been able to meet the registration deadline for fall classes.”

Beckett found some benefits in the remote system, as she was able to send her students information to prepare them for their appointments, more so than she was able to in person.

“The students were much more engaged and had better questions about their own choices, that’s a big plus and I want to keep doing that,” she says.

With students shoring up their future academic plans, faculty worked through what to do about planning their academic present. Beyond the concept of leading an online lecture and working through a multitude of Zoom options, there were considerations on what to do about online quizzes and exams, uploading video, and finding additional tools through eLearning Commons.

“We took a step back and looked at all the options available for online delivery, looking at the constraints and figuring out what the best thing is for the students,” says Henry Munneke, associate dean for undergraduate programs and the Roy Adams Dorsey Distinguished Chair in Real Estate. “The easiest thing would be to do synchronous lectures, where everybody shows up to class at the same time. But the fear was students lived in places where they wouldn’t be able to do it, or lived in apartment buildings that would overrun the network at certain times because synchronous means students are required to be there at that time.”

Munneke, who taught three real estate courses in the spring, had to alter the tempo of his lectures because they rely on students asking questions he answers during class. “When you’re doing lectures asynchronously, you have to think of the questions your students asked in the past and incorporate those into a lecture in an interesting way. In a classroom, it’s usually a back-and-forth conversation, and that’s lost. You have to find ways to replace that.”

Bauer watched as professors found fresh ways to solve these problems. Her classes were uploaded recorded lectures where she watched and absorbed lessons at her own pace. But to get questions answered, one of her classes created a discussion forum in eLC where posted queries awaited her professor’s response.

“The professor was good at answering them quickly,” she says. “I could go there if I have a question and see if it’s already answered. It also gives a place for students to collaborate, interact, and learn. It’s something we hadn’t used before. Hopefully, they can use this in the future to go along with in-class learning. If you’re working on something late at night and it’s not an appropriate time to email a professor, it’s a great way to connect.”

Munneke heard from professors that using the new set of tools enhanced their teaching. 

“Jeff Netter [head of the Department of Finance] quoted himself that he will be a better teacher moving forward because it made him look at other tools to use with students,” Munneke says. “I thought it was interesting he said he’ll be a better professor. That’s a strong statement, he’s a really good teacher already.”

• • •

While Munneke discovered ways to get undergraduate learning on track, his counterpart in graduate instruction was dealing with other quandaries.

Mike Pfarrer, Terry’s associate dean for research and graduate programs, oversees a variety of units including the MBA, Ph.D., and specialized master’s programs, international business, study abroad, and faculty research. As the move toward online instruction approached, Pfarrer found himself helping units prepare remote learning for current students, checking on applicants and prospective students for master’s and doctoral programs, keeping consistent contact with Ph.D. coordinators and students, and making sure students in the International Business co-major were offered alternatives for courses lost to canceled study abroad trips.

Pfarrer, whose research specializes in crisis management and social perceptions about an organization, says Terry is handling the situation well.

“Terry has done a good job in having a singular and consistent message and that’s crisis management 101,” he says. “It’s important to be consistent in what we say and do, and the university and college have done a great job at that.”

Pfarrer’s role in faculty research and the promotion and tenure process are also components with many moving parts. Faculty have continued to push forward with their research, albeit subject to the same disruptions associated with instruction and daily routines. The promotion and tenure process is continuing this summer, with the university offering extensions to junior faculty adversely impacted by the pandemic, Pfarrer says.

Continuing research at the same pace has been a struggle for faculty sheltered at home, but Pfarrer sees opportunities where research can develop from the crisis.

“We’re appreciative of the support of the university in understanding the impact on the lives of the people that deliver that research knowledge, which includes Ph.D. students,” Pfarrer says. “Coming out of the pandemic, there will be opportunities in multiple disciplines at Terry and across the university to study how the current situation affects business practice.”

• • •

Bauer’s senior year was going so well.

Co-winner of the Terry Student of the Year honor, joining fellow students Jasmine Chen, Akhil Hazari, Kometh ‘Tony’ Thawanyarat, and Logan Vanderbilt, Bauer was also a Terry Ambassador, Leonard Leadership Scholar, and recipient of risk management’s Leverett Excellence Award. Her final semester consisted of finishing her capstone project, and heading off to graduation before embarking on her career — she has a job lined up as an analyst in Willis Towers Watson’s graduate development program, set to start in September.

Part of the first graduating class to have the full use of the Business Learning Community, she laments not being able to finish the year on campus, “but I got 75 percent of my senior year, so I can’t complain,” she says, adding that the university made the right decisions with the students as the outbreak spread.

“Everyone has been adaptive, understanding, and empathetic with all the different elements going on that we didn’t foresee,” she says. “They understood they didn’t know all the struggles some students were going through and what challenges they may now have that they didn’t originally have.”

Though Terry’s Graduation Convocation and UGA’s Commencement were postponed in May, both are rescheduled for Oct. 16, assuming it is deemed safe to do so. That will give Bauer and her fellow graduates their well-deserved moment to walk across the stage in cap and gown, as every class has done before them.

It all falls in line with an important value Bauer learned during her time in Athens.

“I can always come back,” she says. “The culture of Georgia and Terry is that you can always come back.”