Coffee Talks Brew Online Community

woman on laptop with a cup of coffee

NC State transitioned to online classes almost three weeks ago.  It’s new territory for many professors and students, all of whom admit they are struggling without daily personal interactions.  In a department built on personal communication, Crop and Soil Sciences’ Director of Undergraduate Programs David Crouse recognized the gap and has started weekly student-faculty coffee talks.

Empty hallway on NC State campus“In a call between Brittany and me, we both commented on how much of our daily energy comes from our students who bring life to the Undergrad Programs Office. It’s a home for our student community in the department.  We figured they were missing that interaction too. Offering the weekly Zoom call gives us a chance to catch up outside the books and really understand how our students are handling these new circumstances,” Crouse said.

These one hour weekly sessions are informal, free-form, and completely optional.  But they are providing an important community atmosphere and opportunity for valuable student dialogue.  

This week’s gathering drew students from all three Crop and Soil Sciences degree programs plus nine university faculty.  The Zoom call started with a quick round-robin of ‘How’s everyone holding up?” followed by a brief pet show-and-tell for levity.

Searching for Meaning & Routine

NC clay soil
Red North Carolina Clay

Students shared accounts of how they are structuring and filling their days. Elizabeth had been hand-making face masks for donation to medical centers until running out of materials. 

Other students reported on yard work and made some real-world connections from soils class about working with clay soil, to which Professor Crouse responded. “How many times have I said in class, there aren’t a lot of soil science problems you can’t solve by first adding some organic matter.”

Students shared their best practices on pacing academic work and structuring their days. “I follow the same schedule on my phone from when we were in class. It keeps me on track,” Mary Grace said. “I have to break up the day. I just can’t sit and do six hours of school work. Plus my dog likes the extra walks.” Ben seconded the need for a regular schedule and shared his daily sequence of exercise, meals, class, and leisure time, “Having some routine helps get me through the day.”

Professors echoed students’ laments over the new online class format.  “It’s hard on us too. We miss the interaction with our students. Recording monologue lectures is as boring to us as it is for you,” Professor Keith Edmisten said.

Fairness and Finals

student watching lecture on a computerThe conversation settled on a discussion of final exams. How would they be held? Would professors really honor open-note exams? What is the ‘right’ faculty expectation for final exams with such a wide range of students’ online accessibility? David Crouse shared a new proctoring approach, being implemented by DELTA, that uses new tools provided by Respondus. 

Depending on the instructor’s preferences, the system can administer online testing with an elevated level of security by using a combination of a webcam to show a student’s surroundings and a stand-alone secured web browser that limits access to open other windows or other programs – including screen capture, copy/paste, and printing capabilities.  “It shuts down many pathways for aiding and abetting in the academic setting,” Crouse noted.  

NC State has no current requirement for the proctoring system. Students debated the fairness of the system, especially for those with low resources – like no webcam or no connectivity at all.  Professor Bob Patterson applauded these considerations. “We have students from international countries with low resources. They are still here somewhere.  Many are extremely distressed about events – or perceived events- in their home countries. The question is, how can we [the faculty] be consistent and fair to all of our students?” Patterson asked.  

Real-Time History

There are some really good conversations happening now about healthcare and our food supply chains.

These are questions students and faculty are pondering, together in some cases.  “This time in history is affecting all parts of society,” Ben said. “It is a huge event for the whole world.  Future generations will be learning about this for a long time.” Crop and Soil Sciences students have a real-time history lesson each week as they (virtually) pen the primary sources for this memorable event.

 “There are some really good conversations happening now about healthcare and our food supply chains,” Mary Grace said. “We talk about it all the time because it’s our field of study.  But most Americans don’t and haven’t’ had to think about it. It’s an amazing time in our world.”

Want to Join the Chat?

Crop & Soil Sciences is here to support all our students through unchartered waters.  If you are an NC State student struggling with online learning or just in need of some camaraderie during quarantine orders, we encourage you to join David Crouse’s weekly coffee chat call.  

To hear the latest news and events happening in our department, we invite you to join our weekly Crop & Soil Sciences newsletter and interact with us on Facebook or Twitter.  Now more than ever we are growing the future together.