Peer Educators Respond to COVID 19: AEWs are Online!

Behind the BIG screens, the LITTLE screen:  Undergrads supporting undergrads in online Engineering courses

We have been thrown into an unprecedented experiment in education. We have embarked on what Hodges et al. (2020) call Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT).  There are differences between intentional online teaching/learning and ERT; they have to do with the time available to develop the ‘ecosystem’ that scaffolds learning in the online environment. But what we know is, despite the time crunch of this emergency transition, we will work together using all the best choices of tools and practices for quality instruction.

On the BIG screen in the College of Engineering, herculean efforts have been and are still being made to share the excellent Cornell Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) materials, and to develop additional engineering-targeted webinars and materials, to prepare faculty to deliver content and engage students online in regular courses.  ELI is collaborating to provide technical, pedagogical and emotional support alongside the office of the Dean, Associate Deans, and other Student Services Program Administrators.  Gratitude, understanding, optimism and patience are the themes for this new and unanticipated shift in how we support engineering education in the College of Engineering.

Behind the scenes, on the SMALL screen, 42 Engineering undergraduate students, scattered to the global winds, began their training and creative initiatives to transition Academic Excellence Workshops (AEWs) into an online mode. AEWs are typically 1 credit, 2 hour per week face-to-face courses facilitated by exemplary undergraduates interested in teaching and learning and in the success of their peers.

This year’s AEW co-lead facilitators, Apoorva Agarwal and Juan Berrio, led the charge, brainstorming with ELI staff about the best and most familiar technologies for students to communicate; ways to surmount the time zone challenges for their international peers; and initiating the development of a ‘Survival Manual’ with new configurations for AEW sessions designed to effectively reach and respond to their students remotely.

Using a combination of synchronous Zoom sessions filled with active chats, polling, breakout rooms, and asynchronous Slack discussion boards, these aspiring engineers are continuing, online, to excel at providing what their peers often say is one of the most effective support services in their Cornell COE education. Examples of creative education practices linking synchronous and asynchronous environments through posted challenge questions after live sessions, humor for stress relief, compassion for students in different time-zones, and encouraging feedback and flexibility abound in the ether that is, for now, the new normal. Kudos AEW facilitators!!

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