Christopher Heth finds new opportunities during remote teaching

By Amanda Duchsherer
Digital Communication Specialist

MINOT, N.D. –  Some normalcy in abnormal times is a goal Christopher Heth ’99, Minot State chemistry assistant professor, tries to capture in his online lectures.

“I’m kind of old school, so I try to mimic that as best I can,” he said. “At my kitchen table, I have a microphone stand of my own with my webcam mounted on it and pointed straight down. I sit here and talk and write notes as similar as can be in a live classroom experience. Then, I tear off a page and do that over again.”

While it doesn’t match using whiteboards or allow for spontaneous discussions, he believes the similar delivery can be an asset for his students.

“As hard as this transition has been on me, this is even more of a shift and change for my students. To take an already difficult subject and suddenly try to do it differently that I had been, I felt that wouldn’t have been as effective,” he said.

In addition to simulating the classroom experience, Heth has added some additional learning opportunities for his students in his SCI 120: Plant Products Seminar I class. Last week, he took advantage of a live virtual symposium.

“Twice a year, the American Chemical Society has a meeting with hundreds of scientific talks and poster sessions and such, and sometimes we have a small handful of students that will go,” he said. “The spring meeting this year was cancelled, and what some of the divisions of the ACS have been doing is giving those symposia online as webcasts.

“I got word of a day and half of presentations from the cannabis chemistry subdivision, which, with our (medical plant chemistry) program, students would certainly have an interest in that.”

Heth utilized two computers — one for watching the presentations and the second to use Blackboard Collaborate for live chats with his students — during the sessions.

“We discussed things, which you can’t politely do when actually in the audience for a live talk,” he said. “We could more freely discuss all the subjects that were being discussed as it was occurring, talk briefly between sessions, and once everything was done, we had a longer discussion about all we had seen.”

The experience has Heth looking at ways to incorporate similar events in the future.

“I’m going to keep my eyes peeled and if there are any archived recordings of talks from next fall or next spring that I can access, I might use them in the class,” he said. “I hadn’t really thought about that until coming across this opportunity. In a live classroom, I can display a recording and we can discuss things live, which will be even better.”

Although Heth records his lectures so students can watch them at times most convenient for them in the midst of upended schedules and time zone differences, he misses the live experience.

“I’ve finally had some video chats with students. I had a review session before exams after Spring Break but none of them turned their cameras on, but at least I could hear some voices,” he said. “Now over the past couple weeks, I’ve had some students scheduled with video chats. I very much miss having the students around.

“The mentoring, the conversations, the discussions, the things that can spur thought on something that may be completely different from what I was discussing in class – those are some of the most valuable things at Minot State.”

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 05/18/20   

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