For the first time ever, all of the College of Charleston’s summer courses are being taught online. After shifting the end of the spring 2020 semester to e-learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, professors at the College are taking their newfound appreciation for education in the digital age and challenging themselves to offer students exciting and different learning experiences throughout the dog days of summer.

With 386 sections of online courses on the summer schedule, there’s no shortage of opportunities for CofC students to keep the momentum of their education going as the temperature creeps up.

From hunting dinosaurs to mastering the fine art of painting to polishing Spanish language skills with students in Trujillo, Spain, here are eight summer classes that might be worth skipping the beach for:

Scott Persons

Scott Persons will take students on a virtual hunt for dinosaur fossils in his online paleontology course.

Field Studies/Paleontology (GEOL 395-02)

In this summer session II course, students will take a virtual trip alongside Scott Persons, assistant professor of geology, as he makes a real-life trek into the badlands of Wyoming to hunt for dinosaur fossils. Focusing on field techniques used during a paleontological expedition, Persons will show students how to figure out where to dig, how to identify a fossil and how to safely collect and transport it back to the laboratory.

“I’ll be using a GoPro camera to give students a paleontologist’s eye–view of a real dinosaur expedition,” says Persons, adding that students will learn the basics of dinosaur biology and new techniques that are shedding light on the lives and evolution of these giant reptiles. “They’ll have to try and spot fossils in the field and identify them, just like the onsite expedition team.”

Time-lapse photography will give students a rapid overview of Persons’ excavation work, laboratory fossil preparation and molding and casting procedures. The course is a partnership with the Glenrock Paleon Museum in Glenrock, Wyoming, and students will get a virtual behind-the-scenes museum tour.

The goal of the course is for students to come away prepared to be a competent member of an in-person dinosaur dig.

“I want them to gain an understanding for the scientific process that goes into a discovery and excavation,” says Persons. “Most people encounter dinosaurs as facts in books or as mounted skeletons in museum displays. This class is about how we find out those facts to begin with and how skeletons that have been buried for tens of millions of years get into those museums.”

Political Sociology (SOCY 357)

Power comes from all over, including sources of authority, political elites, functions of the state, political culture, political socialization, community power structures, patterns of political participation and social movements.

And, in this 300-level Maymester course – open to sociology majors or any student interested in society and politics – Dave Morris, assistant professor of sociology, says he wanted to focus on the nature of power while also taking advantage of the online format by offering a flexible format that allows students to move at their own pace through texts, videos, assignments and online discussions.

“The online format offers students greater time to access various digital media and real-world observational opportunities,” says Morris.

For example, students have had to analyze real social media feeds in an attempt to understand how social media affects political participation, discourse, knowledge and polarization. Students were tasked with watching the documentary Weiner about the rise and fall of former New York congressman Anthony Weiner and the role that social media played in his political success and downfall.

Morris hopes the course gets students thinking about all the factors that shape political discourse and how that in turn shapes society.

“I want students to become excited about the topic and take away a bit of knowledge from the course that sticks with them for years to come,” he says. “In political sociology specifically, I want them to learn to see and analyze the connections between society and political processes and to understand how we arrived at our current political moment nationally and globally.”

abstract student painting

Sophia Russell Canale created this painting as part of Susan Klein’s online summer studio art class.

Color and Abstraction Through Collaboration in the Home Studio (ARTS 235)

Artists have a history of working alone in the studio, but there is a parallel history of artist duos and lifelong collaborations, which is why Susan Klein, an assistant professor in the Department of Studio Art, wanted to create a course where students study the historical precursors of artists working both in solitude and with each other.

During this Maymester course, students have learned about strategies to create abstract paintings and drawings through observation, collaboration and play. Knowing the course would be completely online, Klein wanted to create an experience focusing not just on the techniques of painting, but also on how a piece of art is developed.

“Because I cannot work hands-on with students, it is important that the focus of this course is on the creative process,” she says.

That means students had to create 30 paintings over the course of the three-week class – guided by a series of structured assignments that build on each other. A key element of the assignments required that students use the work of their fellow classmates as inspiration for new pieces of art. Klein has met with students via Zoom each morning, remaining available to her students throughout the day for critiques. And the virtual classroom has made it easier for Klein to connect students with working artists such as artist and curator Will Hutnick, who gave students a virtual tour of his studio.

Klein hopes the experience of having to complete the course online from home will give students a sense of the self-discipline of a studio artist.

“This is a unique opportunity for them to develop guided, but independent and experimental, bodies of work,” she says. “It is important that they know how vital failure is, how to explore the unknown and how to listen to their work – all the while learning about the historical lineage of which they are part.”

Yellowstone National Park

Geology professor John Chadwick will take students in his geology class on a virtual exploration of Yellowstone National Park.

Field Studies/Geology (GEOL 395-01)

Ever wanted to explore Yellowstone National Park? This summer session II class is as close as you can get without actually being there. Students will take a virtual trip to the Yellowstone National Park region with John Chadwick, associate professor of geology, to learn about methods for mapping geological structures in the field.

Chadwick, who will be working in the Yellowstone region this summer, wants to give students as much of a first-person experience as he can. As part of the course, students will get virtual geology tours of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks as well as Craters of the Moon National Monument.

“Students can watch me doing the field work and learn how to use the tools and learn the field geology methods and lingo,” says Chadwick, who will document his work with video for his students. “I will act as the virtual field partner for each student, helping them to figure out what we are seeing together in the videos and images. We will gather data ‘together,’ and they will consolidate and process the data to identify geological structures that I visit. We’ll also discuss the evidence we see (virtually) in Yellowstone to find out how cool geological processes work, such as geyser eruptions, super-eruptions of the Yellowstone caldera volcano and deadly earthquakes.”

In addition, students will learn how to use field-mapping tools such as Brunton compasses, GPS data and satellite images, all of which are field methods critical in earth science careers ranging from energy exploration and mining to groundwater pollution and civil engineering.

Chadwick hopes students leave feeling empowered about their newfound technical skills and excitement about the geological science behind these incredible natural environments.

“The Yellowstone area is one of the best geology classrooms in the world. It’s an amazing super-volcano that has exploded several times and erupted ash over all of North America!” he says. “One of the important lessons for the class will be to understand why the three parks we’ll visit (Yellowstone, Tetons and Craters of the Moon) are all linked by a single geological process of hotspot volcanism.”

CofC's campus in Trujillo

Students in Devon Hanahan’s Spanish conversation class will get to speak with high school and university students in Trujillo, Spain.

Spanish Conversation (SPAN 314)

The best way to learn a language is to speak it. And Devon Hanahan ’87, senior instructor of Hispanic studies and program coordinator for the Basic Spanish Language Program, isn’t letting social distancing stand in the way of her students taking their Spanish skills to the next level.

Through regular Zoom meetings, students in this summer session I course will practice a variety of conversational skills ranging from narrating in the past, making plans for the future and describing people, places and things. Students will watch three Spanish language movies and hold discussions (in Spanish) on the issues and themes of each film, focusing their conversations on different elements of the language.

And with students unable to travel to the College’s campus in Trujillo, Spain, this summer due to COVID-19, Hanahan decided to do the next best thing and connect her students with high school and university students who live in Trujillo. The two groups of students will hold conversations on Flipgrid about various topics. Both groups of students will also take their Spanish and American counterparts on tours of their respective homes either by filming in their neighborhoods and narrating or using Google Tours to create a virtual tour with narration.

The experience gives Hanahan’s students the opportunity to engage in conversations with native Spanish speakers who are also their peers.

“We’ve been going to Trujillo for 25 years,” says Hanahan. “I wanted to give them a little taste of it.”

Molecular Biology (BIOL 312)

Renaud Geslain’s drawings of bees and butterflies add a bit of color and whimsy to a video lecture on genetically modified food. Similarly, sketches of yellow stalks of corn and squiggly lines depicting bacterial genes bring to life how certain biological techniques affect agricultural production.

This summer session I course, which begins on June 2, is Geslain’s first course completely designed to be taught online. After taking the College’s Faculty Distance Education Readiness Course, the assistant professor of biology was inspired to build a completely new version of his molecular biology course specifically meant to engage students in a digital format. Using a series of video lectures, which include Geslain’s drawings and notes, he walks students through different elements of molecular biology pulled from recent articles in publications such as the scientific journal Nature.

“What I wanted to do was cover subjects that were current,” he says. “I wanted to do something I could call my own and design my own material.”

Using a microphone and camera, Geslain has created targeted video lectures from scratch with an aim of giving students a feeling of having the material explained as if they were in a face-to-face setting. Students go deeper into the concepts with individual and group assignments, and Geslain is available for office hours via Zoom so students can ask questions and get clarification on things like the structure, synthesis and function of DNA, RNA and proteins.

“I want my students to enjoy the course,” he says. “This was my objective.”

someone holds a cell phone while looking at a laptop

Students in Jennifer Barhorst’s digital and social media marketing class will explore how to use digital and social media for marketing and communication strategies.

Digital and Social Media Marketing (MKTG 345)

Digital and social media have forever changed the way we communicate. And Jennifer B. Barhorst, assistant professor of marketing, thinks an online environment is the perfect way for students to explore how these two virtual arenas function for advertising, marketing and communication strategies.

Students in this summer session I course will learn to appreciate the creative process by using social media apps such as TikTok, Triller and Instagram stories as well as how to curate a professional brand on LinkedIn. Barhorst will also task students with exploring how major brands use digital and social media, such as luxury brand Chanel’s 2019 holiday campaign that included an augmented reality experience of a snow globe on Snapchat.

“I want students to think about what Chanel is doing, why they are using an augmented reality experience and why it is such a powerful tool for marketers,” says Barhorst.

But the hands-on learning will go deeper with a group project that requires students to work together to design a website and then create content for the site using both social media apps and traditional measures. The goal is for students to develop digital content that catches the eye and gets users to engage.

“My classes are oriented toward real-world projects and real-world experience,” says Barhorst. “I want my students to be able to get a job and I want them to be very marketable. I want them to feel confident once they leave the class that they are skilled and competent in the digital and social media marketing world.”

Integrating Technology Into Teaching (EDFS 326)

A teacher teaching future teachers how to use technology to teach students is about as full circle an educational moment as it gets. And Assistant Professor of Teacher Education Ian O’Byrne wants to use this online summer session II course as a way to show future educators exactly how instructional technologies, open educational resources, backwards design and project-based learning can help students learn.

“The class is designed help our students (pre-service teachers) consider educational opportunities for technology for use in their future classrooms,” says O’Byrne.

O’Byrne creates video lectures as well as curates other video and audio materials on targeted lessons. He also encourages students to engage with each other through, an annotation app, which allows students to have a “dialogue about the text … baked into the text.” Peergrade, a free online platform, allows students to share assignments and lessons with their classmates for feedback.

Outside of learning how to teach using technology, O’Byrne wants his students to consider their own digital identities and help them build a digital identity as an educator through the development of a website that will serve as their online portfolio. The objective is for these future teachers to leave the course ready to embrace the increasingly digital world of education and help their future students do the same.

“I hope that students leave the technology class thinking about opportunities to leverage new and digital spaces to educate, empower and advocate for their learners,” says O’Byrne. “I hope they consider how I use digital texts and tools in my practices, and what works – or does not work for them. I hope they think about new ways they might think critically about time, space, path and place as they engage with learners in their future classrooms. Most importantly, I hope they will be humble, be thoughtful and be brave.”