Below, hear from faculty and students on their experiences going virtual.
Check back throughout the month of August for more stories.

Victoria Quijano, Ed.D.

The More You Know

For their senior capstone course, San Francisco State University public health students are required to complete internships, working 20 hours each week for public health centers, hospitals or nonprofits with a focus on social justice. After a few weeks in the field this spring, though, students saw their internships cancelled due to COVID-19.

To make sure they still got the experience needed, public health professor Victoria Quijano, Ed.D.​​, (pictured) ​redesigned the internship class with the help of her students—developing a COVID-19 health promotion and wellness website called SF State Public Health Edugators (named for the campus's mascot).

“We wanted to do something that's meaningful, we wanted to do something that's relevant, we wanted to do something that serves our community and we wanted to do something where we can practice the skills we've learned in this program," Dr. Quijano says.

The students split into teams and built website sections dedicated to topics like COVID-19 news, resources for distance learning, tips for staying mentally and physically healthy at home and new hobbies to try. Others managed the site's social media accounts to promote the original content the students created.

Emma Castillo '20 served as the editor-in-chief for the COVID-19 news section and Dear Health Educator page, which acted as a type of advice column with responses to questions submitted anonymously.

“It was our way of putting together a response website to COVID-19 through the lens of health education and wellness in this time of uncertainty," she explains.

Castillo says working on the website particularly helped her learn how to develop an efficient informational response to a community need, especially as her team vetted information sources around COVID-19 before researchers had a firm understanding of how the virus behaved.

In addition, she says she learned to work effectively in a team—a skill she can take into her future positions—by “acknowledging the space that people need as well as finding efficient time blocks to get work done so we can produce something meaningful not only ourselves but for our peers."

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Ashley Vizenor, Ph.D.

Personal Touch

No matter what class she's teaching, the goal for Ashley Vizenor, Ph.D., adjunct professor of chemistry at California State University, San Bernardino, is to make her class personal.

Usually, she does so by sharing about her life outside campus, but now her students get an even closer look into her world as they meet via video call. “They got to peer inside my house. … They got to see my foster kittens, root them on and know what was going on with me on a personal note," Dr. Vizenor says. “In my opinion, it was more beneficial because while they already knew I was human, they really got to see that I truly have a life outside of work, really care for them and will do everything I can to help them succeed."

Participating in the Association of College and University Educators professional development courses also helped her figure out ways to further engage virtually with students in her classes at both Cal State San Bernardino and Barstow Community College—like making time to share chemistry memes in the online discussion board or posting a welcome video assuaging fears about taking an online chemistry course.

“I want them to use my class as a solace, as a place to—while they're learning—still have fun, interact with their classmates for some type of socialization and know that the subject is accessible to all," she says.

This proved most challenging with Vizenor's organic chemistry students at CSUSB, who instead of performing physical experiments in the lab, were now working in virtual groups to ascertain the mechanisms and structures of unknown compounds. To ensure the students could meet with her to ask questions about class or talk about life, Vizenor would host office hours immediately before and after lab time on the same Zoom call.

“Finding a way to show we care and we're there for students is really important so they also get that motivation: 'They care about my well-being and my education, so I'm going to keep trying too,'" she says.

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Beda Guzman

One With Nature

After her December 2020 graduation, Sonoma State University senior Beda Guzman hopes to use her biology degree, with a concentration in zoology, to work at a zoo. As part of her schooling, she was completing a naturalist training program this spring that took her and her classmates into nature—until COVID-19 changed everything.

While students had a number of ways to complete the training virtually, Guzman focused on the virtual workshops created by SSU's Center for Environmental Inquiry (CEI).

“It was mind blowing that there were people from Sonoma, San Diego and a professor from New York just teaching for an hour about an interesting subject," she says. “By joining these events, I was getting another reinforcement of what I was already learning."


Because Guzman was taking an entomology (study of insects) course, the event on dragonflies by Kevin Munroe, the Nature Conservatory's Long Island preserve director and former land management specialist at CEI, particularly stood out to her. “I was learning about dragonflies from New York versus what I was learning about dragonflies in Sonoma County," she says. “You get broader information, compared to [information from one] specific location."

But Guzman also took the chance to include her mom in these virtual lessons. “She wasn't part of the audience intended, but I was making her sit down and watch them with me because there were other episodes like how to make bird feeders or how to make your garden more eco-friendly," she explains. “It became more like a family thing where it wasn't just me learning, it was my whole household."

Looking ahead, CEI is now working on a new Virtual Field project featuring three-minute videos from ecosystems across the globe that teach students observation skills and 50-minute live virtual interactions between students and researchers at their field sites. 

“The beauty of this project is the collective action of 50 field sites in 26 states and six countries," says CEI Director Claudia Luke. “We each could have continued to do our own individual workshops, but by working together, we are creating experiences for students at sites across the world, something that will be of value even after the pandemic is over."

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Jon McFarland, Ed.D.

Teaching Teachers

Last year, California State University, Stanislaus Assistant Professor of Teacher Education Jon McFarland, Ed.D., signed up for a year-long Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) effective teaching practices course. What he didn't know when signing up was how it would prepare him to transition to online courses this spring.

“Because of the way the ACUE course had been developed and set up, they addressed the needs of those working in in-person classes, but also online," Dr. McFarland says. “So, my focus​ switched, and it really switched to, 'Now this is going to help me become a better instructor online.'"

Following the course and spring transition, the campus tapped McFarland to help other instructors by leading the Promoting Active Learning Online ACUE course. His best tips for virtual instruction were to not be afraid of trying new technology tools and to build relationships with students through regular check-ins. “There are multiple ways you can break up the monotony and reach out to students," he says.

Bringing in a variety of technology was one way McFarland gave his students in the Single Subject Credential Program a more interactive experience in the virtual space. For example, he split his class by their content areas, like math, science or physical education, into Zoom breakout rooms where they could discuss relevant course questions and take notes in Google Slides for a later presentation.

But thanks to the ACUE courses and heightened focus on virtual instruction, McFarland also had a unique opportunity to share his learnings with his teaching credential students, who may now also need to teach online in the future.

“I get to help with my own practice, but then I also get to pass [the information] on to new upcoming teacher candidates, which they will then be able to use and manipulate for their own teaching practices when they're working in secondary schools," he says. “Normally, most teaching credentialing programs do not give any type of focus to online teaching and online learning, so I think this was a great opportunity for them."

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Samantha Fields

Artists at Work

This spring, instead of trying to convert her existing plans for her advanced studio art courses to online, California State University, Northridge Art Professor Samantha Fields completely threw out her syllabus. Starting from scratch, she designed the Self-Isolation Pandemic Artist's Residency Program (SIPARP) in a matter of days.

“I really did think, Well, if we are going to be at home, in quarantine, why not re-frame the narrative as a residency program?" she says. “Artists residencies are competitive programs where artists go to retreat and focus on their work. I really wanted to give my students a way to deal with isolation while also developing final portfolios."

In addition to allowing students to focus on their art, SIPARP gave them an opportunity to set up their home studio, develop web content showcasing their work and experience an art residency—all of which they would need to do post-graduation—under Fields's mentorship.

“It was a great opportunity to transition [to post-graduation life]," says recent graduate Alexis Ramos (pictured). “Once you graduate, you are going to have to get residencies, and this is what it's going to be like—in an isolated space where you can create your artwork and … you may not be able to get everything you want so you just work with what you have."

Ramos learned this lesson while adapting her canvas painting and her work with hexagonal tiles for her home studio. First, she switched to painting with watercolors and oil paint on acetate sheets; then, she figured out how to fire her tiles in her kitchen's oven because she couldn't access the kiln on campus.

Graduate student Coby Cerna, who served as Fields's teaching assistant, also participated in the graduate version of SIPARP. When making his switch from working in the art studio to his studio apartment—not an easy feat when his sculptural work requires deconstructing canvas paintings—he turned to creating drawings mixed with magazine cutouts.

But what Cerna ultimately found most helpful was having more time with his art. “The driving back and forth [to campus] made it difficult to spend time on our own work," he says. “With the residency and lockdown, we were forced to do that ... and I think I learned a lot from just sitting down with my work."

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Joshua Frye, Ph.D.

Talk About It

When COVID-19 hit this spring, Humboldt State University Communications Professor Joshua Frye, Ph.D., turned to the instructional designers and an introductory course in online class design at the campus's Center for Teaching and Learning to help convert his American Public Discourse class to online.

With their help, Dr. Frye added his course to the virtual learning platform Canvas, where he could post class content and students could submit assignments. The switch ultimately offered more flexibility.

“I think it became almost more accessible for students because they were able to get a visual understanding of the breakdown of the required readings or 'listenings,'" Frye says of his class, which centers on speeches and public conversation around important issues the U.S. has faced throughout its history. “And it added diversity, because there's such a variety of different media formats for these types of artifacts."

For example, he could share transcripts of a speech from Native American leader Chief Seattle, but for a 2014 speech from former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, he could share a video.


“Because of the immediacy of these artifacts in the online environment, it spurs students' thinking, and they start to make connections and see the similarities between issues and the contours of those public challenges that we faced [in the U.S.]," he says. “The discourse has addressed that, but the way in which it's laid out [online] gives them access to those artifacts in a way the face-to-face environment doesn't necessarily do as well."

A major component of Frye's class is the missing speech project, which requires students to select one of the 13 themes covered such as civil rights or religion, research a related discourse not included in Frye's curriculum and facilitate a class presentation and discussion. “They're practicing discussion skills including preparation and facilitation, thoughtful participation in a public conversation and a critical responsiveness," he explains.

Thanks to the virtual space, Frye could also offer greater flexibility in how students submitted their assignment—whether in an audio file, a video or a slideshow presentation.

“I want my assessment methods to reflect the diversity of student learning styles, so I try to implement universal design principles," he says. “In this case, that means I give students the flexibility to experiment with technology."

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Jaime Hannans, Ph.D.

A Different Reality

Seated in front of her computer, Associate Professor of Nursing Jaime Hannans, Ph.D., R.N., (right) dons a virtual reality headset as the visuals she sees are streamed to the group of California State University Channel Islands students joining her on Zoom.

Normally, each clinical nursing student would wear the headset to experience medical conditions, receiving terminal diagnoses or going through the healthcare system from a patient's perspective.

“You wouldn't know the patient's perspective like you do without that virtual reality experience," recent nursing graduate Ginger Goldman says. “You get a taste of something that helps your compassion. I don't think there's anything more important in your career going forward than your ability to go outside your own experience to deal with all sorts of issues you've never encountered before."

But with the transition to virtual—and not being able to share the headset in a classroom—Dr. Hannans and Associate Professor of Nursing Colleen Nevins, D.N.P., R.N., (left) started experimenting with this group distributed mode. Goldman says that using virtual reality in this way allowed the students and professors to periodically pause the experience and discuss it more in depth together.

In addition, after the students' clinical rotations were canceled due to COVID-19, the teaching pair, along with their colleagues, had to “recreate the [rotation] experience as closely as we could to model the thinking, decision-making and processes they would do in the clinical setting," Hannans says.


To this end, they incorporated virtual simulated experiences from a variety of resources that required students to go through hypothetical patient scenarios and counted toward their clinical hours. “It's like going into a patient's room and actually doing the things you need to do related to safety—wash your hands, introduce yourself, ID the patient—and making decisions around prioritizing multiple patient care needs and determining assignments," Dr. Nevins says.

The benefit: “You could go through your whole three years in all your clinical experiences and never have certain kinds of patients," Goldman says. “[With the virtual simulations], you're definitely going to deal with the severe cardiac patient and with someone who's been in a traumatic accident."

Following their work this spring, Hannans and Nevins received a CSU innovation mini-grant to develop a systemwide virtual nursing lab program.

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Jose Huitron

Ready, Set, Accelerate

Through the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) HotHouse Summer Accelerator program, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo student entrepreneurs get an opportunity to launch their own start-ups, develop a product and build a customer base with the support of mentors and campus resources. Like many other programs this year, the experience will be entirely virtual.

While the program started on June 22, the CIE team held a series of pre-accelerator workshops focused on helping the student teams build on a knowledge base around “the phases of customer development, solution development and company development—just building a start-up and what that takes in the different areas of talking to customers, unfolding a business model and trying to achieve some success in the areas of viability, feasibility and ultimately desirability," says Director of Student Innovation Programs Jose Huitron, who oversees the program.

But this year's pre-workshops also covered remote team communication and collaboration tools, like Slack, to ensure the virtual experience builds the same level of community as the in-person experience. “We tried to set the tone around team collaboration and culture from the get-go [through] … the pre-workshops and ongoing workshops that we're going to hold throughout the accelerator experience, in addition to our content and programming."

The CIE team is also recording and cataloging the program work and events—mentor meetings, guest speakers, workshops and team communication.

“You can actually create an on-demand library of content that the entrepreneurs, founders, teams, mentors and organizers would have access to when you're talking about nuggets of information," Huitron says. It's especially helpful “when you have a virtual workshop or a guest speaker who's an incredibly successful entrepreneur or somebody of merit who knows their stuff."

The program will culminate on September 18 with Dem​o Day​, when participants present their start-ups to the community and the virtual format may have its advantages.

“Normally where they'd have 100 or 200 people in the room, they could now have an audience of 800 to 1,000 people throughout the greater community to plug into what these entrepreneurs are doing," Huitron says. “It expands and amplifies our reach, and we're preparing for that. We're going to leverage that to its full potential to really showcase what the student entrepreneurs are capable of."

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Amanda Cox

Ready for the Field

Amanda Cox, a recent California State University, Chico agricultural sciences graduate, spent the last two years of her undergraduate career researching biological nitrogen fixation. That is, under the guidance of Professor Hossein Zakeri, Ph.D., and Postdoctoral Researcher Kyle Brasier, Ph.D., she studied how cover crops like fava beans turn nitrogen in the air into natural fertilizer.

When the onset of COVID-19 put a temporary stop to in-person research, Dr. Brasier came up with the idea of starting a journal club for Cox and her fellow student researchers.

“Our journal club was an attempt to help me and another classmate develop some skills and tools to read academic language and go through different journals. We each have our own manuscript we're working on for the research we're doing," Cox says. “We're hoping to publish that, which is also part of our honors thesis."

At first, Brasier would send them a journal article to read, annotate and then discuss together on a Zoom call. “We'd talk about what we liked in the papers and what we could possibly take from those papers and put in our own, style-wise," Cox explains. “It was an opportunity for us to think critically about academic language."

As more students joined, the club evolved to include student presentations on journal articles they found and pointed lessons on academic writing, data presentation and data analysis tools.

“I found it very useful … having the ability to sit down and actually read [a journal] and then talk about it with someone who's already gone through all the steps of their undergrad, master's and Ph.D.," Cox says. “I definitely feel like transitioning to online gave us more time to sit down, take a breath and go back to the roots of how our research started from all the journals."

Cox continued to work on her research and thesis through the summer and is beginning a master's program in soil science at Oregon State University this fall.

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Renée Tatum


Switching to a virtual classroom meant California State University, Fullerton's University Singers couldn't perform together. But that didn't stop Robert Istad, D.M.A., professor of music and director of choral studies, from making sure they received a unique class experience in the form of some life advice—from renowned Metropolitan Opera singer and CSUF alumna Renée Tatum no less.

“Because of Zoom, we could literally invite anybody to come talk to us," Dr. Istad says. “The students just revere Renée. They're so inspired by her story … [because] she shares a similar background with our students. Here's this woman who just showed up at Fullerton and then built this international singing career."

Thanks to online learning options, the students were able to talk personally with Tatum, who was in Boston at the time, asking her questions like how she built her career and how she learned to navigate the politics of the classical music world.

“One of my students said this was the most life-changing masterclass they'd ever attended, and we have flown in all the big people to come talk to them," Istad recalls. “But there was something really special about having that intimate conversation about life and their careers."

As far as Tatum's best piece of advice, she said to “stay in your lane."

“But she took that phrase and turned it around for herself," Istad says. “She said what she really learned in her life is to focus on her own artistry, to not worry about what other people are doing and to be true to who she was as an artist, who she wanted to be and the kind of work she wanted out in public. That resonated with the students because when you're a young musician and training around all those students, it's really easy to look at everybody else and either feel behind or like you're not doing the right things."

While the transition to online gave Professor ​Istad the first push to invite a speaker via Zoom, he says he'll continue incorporating these virtual interviews for the rest of his teaching career.

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