College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities

CAAH adapts: We’re all learning about distance learning


Photo of Lee Wilson, assistant professor of history
Lee Wilson, an assistant professor of history, prepares an online lesson. The transition to online instruction has been relatively smooth, Wilson said, thanks to the support of faculty, administration and family. Image Credit: Courtesy of Lee Wilson

Since Clemson University announced in March that classes were moving online in response to the coronavirus pandemic, students and faculty members alike have had to make adjustments.

One professor said that in the first week of distance learning, a student showed up shirtless, not realizing classmates could see more than his face during the teleconference. This led to some gentle teasing – and a new class rule.

Other students and instructors from the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities have shared their successes, challenges and frustrations, along with welcome moments of comic relief.


“Students seem to be a little stressed but in good spirits,” said Charles Starkey, an associate professor of philosophy. “The students come into the class meetings from California to Connecticut, and I start meetings with icebreaker questions. When I asked them if there was an upside to the recent disruptions with spring break and school, one replied, “I know how to spell quarantine now.”

“For me, online learning has made me appreciate face-to-face learning. My professors in the English department, Dr. Andrew Lemons and Dr. Angela Naimou, have done such a tremendous job accommodating this move,” said Thomas Marshall III, a senior majoring in English. “I miss the social aspect of class a lot, but it’s been about being creative: having Zoom hangouts, checking up on friends I haven’t talked to in a while, all things like that to get us through this crazy time.”

“I find that constant communication is essential to online teaching,” said David Antonini, professor of philosophy. “I just want students to understand that these are not normal circumstances and that communicating with me about any issues they’re having is essential.”

Sophomore architecture student Madeline Cost said that as a visual and tactile learner, she finds the online transition difficult, especially when it comes to motivation and attention span. “I have found it beneficial in my studio work, however, because I am able to do things more outside of the box with the materials that I am being forced to find in my own home,” she said.

“Transitioning to online teaching has been fun and difficult,” said Virginia Melnyk, a lecturer in architecture. “We had all 90 or so of our students meet up on Zoom for the first class after break. It was so great to see them all together again. … The morning class I teach is also fun, as many students are still in their pajamas and eating breakfast. All this distance has somehow brought us closer.”

Cat pack

Several history professors reported that their cats are not good officemates. William Terry said his pet constantly steps on his keyboard. Caroline Dunn’s cat nibbles on the corners of her devices. “Weird,” she said.

“My cat Luke has noticed how much time I spend in the chair in front of my computer. He has concluded that this must be the best chair in the house, and that he must occupy it,” Edwin Moise said. “I spend a lot of time perched on the front half of the seat of that chair, with Luke lying on the back half.”

Changes of venue

Rachel Amaral, a sophomore, began her semester studying in Seville, Spain. The language and international health major in Spanish was sad the in-person classes had to end. “Obviously for our health and safety it is very important,” she said. “The benefit of online learning is that it gives me freedom to do my work whenever I would like. I am so grateful for the two months that I was able to be in Seville, and I’ll always remember it. I had an amazing host family who cared for me so much and comforted me when I was told I had to go home.”

Photo of theater profession Bill Munoz
Guest speaker Bill Munoz pretended to be asleep when he appeared at Shannon Robert’s online theater class. Image Credit: Courtesy of Shannon Robert

“The most enjoyable aspect of this for me has been the process of seeing our students in their own spaces, and all the details and nuances that come with that,” said Dan Harding, an associate professor and the director of graduate programs in the School of Architecture. “For me, at home with the entire family working and going to school, our internet can get maxed out fast. So, on some days I will work from my car in the parking lot of Lee Hall. Funny thing is, with the background image on Zoom, no one knows I am in my Jeep.”

Julia Seppala, a junior construction science and management student, has been working from Clemson. “It is difficult because my apartment has always been a place to relax, not to work,” she said. Her professors have done well online, but she misses socializing with them and her classmates.

Tate Fowler, a junior world cinema major, is also staying in Clemson. “My professors are all being very understanding and caring,” he said. He misses friends, but stays in touch through Zoom or Netflix Party, which allows them to watch the same movie at the same time.

The art of adaptation

“It has been fun and inspiring to receive messages from performing arts faculty who were initially very worried about the move, but who have discovered exciting ways to continue their work with students,” said Becky Becker, chair of the Department of Performing Arts. “As I learned from my own students, many really value the face-to-face time using digital technology since it helps them to stay connected and moving forward.”

Paul Buyer, professor of music and director of music and percussion, said teaching 13 private lessons online has been an adjustment. “I teach almost all of them on snare drum using a practice pad,” he said. “My 7-year-old comes in sometimes while I am teaching, but he is adjusting to this new normal as well.”

“I find that my students and I are really enjoying our lessons,” said Lisa Sain Odom, an assistant professor of vocal studies and musical theater. She previously taught voice lessons via FaceTime and Skype, “so this wasn’t anything particularly new for me.”

Todd McDonald, an associate professor of art, said his transition has been “mixed.”
He misses giving feedback to his painting students in real time, but is enjoying their work. “With all of the students spread out in their quarantine locations, the results are much more interesting and diverse,” he said.

Guest appearances

Cats haven’t been the only visitors to online classes. Dan Harding reports that “We definitely have had dogs, cats, rabbits, and kids show up at our class Zoom sessions.” Gabriel Hankins, an assistant professor of English, even saw a bear. “One student’s son keeps pranking him with a bear costume!”

Photo of student Ruthie Calvino and professors Pam Mack, Vernon Burton and Josh Catalano.
Ruthie Calvino (lower left) defended her master’s thesis in history online. Also pictured are history professors Joshua Catalano (upper left), Vernon Burton and Pam Mack. Image Credit: Courtesy of Pam Mack

“I’ve appreciated getting to meet several of my students’ pets online, and I tip my hat to the student who showed up for our Zoom discussion in a Superman costume,” said Brookes Brown, director of the Law, Liberty, and Justice program in philosophy. She said students are trying to make the best of a terrible situation with a spirit of adventure: “I honor them for it.”

“My most ‘interesting’ event was that during my Zoom lecture, the sounds of my middle-schooler son’s alto sax drifted in,” said Amit Bein, acting chair of the department of history. “He was having an online band class at the same time.”

John Smith, interim director of the world cinema program, said that when a student forget to mute their mic, the sound of footsteps added an unexpected, mysterious sound to a recent online screening of the classic film “Now, Voyager.”

Henrique Houayek, professor-in-residence at the Charles E. Daniel Center in Genoa Italy, said his 4-year-old daughter stops by and speaks briefly to students, “but most of the time she just tells me to get out of the computer and spent time with her.”

Lee Wilson, an assistant professor of history, said the transition to online learning has been a team effort from top to bottom. “From the administration to my wonderful colleagues in the history department to my family, everyone has pitched in to make things run smoothly. My 14-year-old son helped me to retrofit his Xbox headset to voice-over my PowerPoint lectures. Of course, everything hasn’t run smoothly at all times. My 3-year-old daughter barged in to one recording session clamoring for help ‘going potty.’ Such is the life of an academic parent in the age of coronavirus.”

Online by choice

 One College program especially poised for the emergency shift to online instruction was Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design (RCID). The Ph.D. program’s director, Cynthia Haynes, explained that “classes, defenses and colloquia are already conducted in a blended/hybrid digital platform.” About half of the program’s current students had enrolled in the program’s online option from the start.

Salvador Oropesa, professor of Spanish and chair of the languages department, said one of his faculty members had visited with 24 advisees through Zoom, and is not going back to in-person advising. “Zoom is faster and more effective,” he said.

At The Writing Center, the online transition also has been smooth, according to its director, Chelsea Murdock. The center had previously offered free assistance to students in a variety of ways, included real-time online sessions and emailed feedback. “We miss seeing students face-to-face, though,” she said.

A changed world

Mary Padua, professor of landscape architecture, said her students are “dismayed, disappointed and anxious” about their job search activities being paused. Several had interviews with multiple firms before the thriving industry ground to a sudden halt. “No offers have been made,” she said. “Staying connected via Zoom helps allay their anxiety and keeps their spirits up.”

English lecturer Mike Pulley said students in two of his classes – Science Writing and Communication, and Writing for the News Media – suddenly have a wealth of material as they write about “the story of a century,” COVID-19.

“I feel like the key to making online learning work on Zoom is to proceed with good will, good faith and empathy, and fighting the impulse to think like a cop as much as possible,” said Jonathan Beecher Field, associate professor of English. “I tell students, here are three things that social distancing can get you: 1) A return to face-to-face learning in the fall of 2020. 2) A 2020 Clemson football season 3) Having your grandparents survive to come to your graduation or wedding.”

What are you wearing?

Working from home means dress codes have been relaxed, said William Gioffre, a sophomore majoring in language and international business. “My professors have been really understanding about any difficulties or problems; plus, I did get to have an interview while in pajama pants,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll get the job, but I was very relaxed!”

Shannon Robert, an associate professor of performing arts, scheduled a theater industry professional to speak with her students about managing their careers during a crisis. To lighten the mood, the guest started the Zoom session by appearing to be asleep in bed. “It was a commentary on our new methods of engaging,” Robert said. “He got a big laugh – a good start to class.”

“It’s a running joke in my class that I wear the same shirt every day,” said Paul Anderson, professor of history and Clemson University historian. “I had it on the first day, and then the second, and then after that they began wondering if I owned another shirt. … But my class is remarkable. It really does bother me to hear people offhandedly talk about millennial entitlement. I’m not seeing it. I see a generation that was born in the aftermath of 9/11, lived through the most devastating economic crash since the Great Depression, and now has a global pandemic and all of its associated consequences. And, well, they’re still standing.”

Want to Discuss?

Get in touch and we will connect you with the author or another expert.

Or email us at

    This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.