Transitioning all instruction to distance learning in response to COVID-19 hasn’t been easy, but Ball State is finding a way.

From the beginning, professors were finding innovative ways to interact with and engage their students — a process that is likely to evolve as the crisis continues and guidelines change.

Students are working creatively with their professors to make sure their education doesn’t stop.

Here are four ways that Ball State is getting it done.

Sociology Capstone Students Examine COVID-19 as the Next Chapter of Middletown

The two Middletown studies by sociologists Robert S. and Helen Merrell Lynd examined how Muncie, identified as a representative American community, handled the industrialization of the 1920s and 1930s.

Middletown and Middletown in Transition became classic sociological studies and established the community as a barometer of social trends in the United States.

Now, students in Dr. Melinda Messineo’s capstone sociology course are using the Middletown studies as a framework for documenting the community’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“They are saying, this is the next chapter of Muncie as Middletown,” Messineo said. “They are seeing it within this larger tradition. It’s a chapter of Muncie’s history now.”

The students are also building on a longstanding tradition within Ball State. The Center for Middletown Studies was established in 1980 to build on the Lynd’s research. It became a permanent academic unit at Ball State in 1984.

Messineo’s class involves 25 students, all of them sociology majors in their senior year. They will document their own lives for posterity’s sake as they navigate personal and social changes during the pandemic.

Melinda Messineo, Professor of Sociology

They are saying, this is the next chapter of Muncie as Middletown. They are seeing it within this larger tradition. It’s a chapter of Muncie’s history now.

Melinda MessineoProfessor of Sociology

Honors Course Discovers Online Delivery to be Quite Conducive to Philosophical Debate

Dr. Tim Berg teaches two sections of Honors 202, a humanities course heavy on philosophy from thinkers like René Descartes and John Locke.

They tackle big questions, such as, “What can we know, and how can we know it?”

Under normal circumstances, these are questions best addressed in energetic classroom discussions. Now, Berg has had to transition the conversation to online discussion boards through Canvas.

“I’m trying to keep things as simple as possible and be flexible,” he said. “The students are being great. They know the situation is evolving. They’ve been troupers.”

The situation has presented challenges, but Berg and his students have also identified a big advantage of online discussions.

As the saying goes, the Internet is forever.

“When we have a face-to-face discussion, everything we say goes off into the ether and is lost,” Berg said. “Now everything gets preserved. We can use it for later papers or reflections.”

Tim Berg, Associate Teaching Professor of Honors Humanities

When we have a face-to-face discussion, everything we say goes off into the ether and is lost. Now everything gets preserved. We can use it for later papers or reflections.

Tim BergAssociate Teaching Professor of Honors Humanities

English Professor Encourages Students to Volunteer

The Book Arts Collaborative in downtown Muncie is both an immersive learning course and a student-managed business.

Under the supervision of English Associate Professor Dr. Rai Peterson, students operate a book bindery and letterpress and host workshops for community members interested in the craft.

The coronavirus made it impossible to continue operations at the collaborative. But Peterson wanted to maintain the spirit of community involvement, even in this difficult time.

So, for the Book Arts Collaborative, and for all her other English courses, she decided encourage students to volunteer in food pantries and other organizations that provide meals. Students who volunteer 5 hours a week through the rest of the semester will not have to take the final exam.

“My rationale for that is that food is ordinarily protected for sanitation, and so I trust the people who organize food pantries and meal provision to protect the students as well as their clients,” Peterson said.

Rai Peterson, Associate Professor of English

My rationale for [encouraging volunteering] is that food is ordinarily protected for sanitation, and so I trust the people who organize food pantries and meal provision to protect the students as well as their clients.

Rai PetersonAssociate Professor of English

Theatre and Dance Students Create Unforgettable Final Rehearsals

On Thursday, March 12, students in theatre and dance programs performed one-time-only, final run-throughs for five productions that were set to open soon.

They did it before mostly empty venues, and the run-throughs happened before social distancing recommendations took affect. The audiences included department faculty, administrators, and one guest for each student.

Department Chair Bill Jenkins described the works as both a great chance to celebrate the collaborative culture of the department and a way to give seniors a send-off.

“The performances were so good,” Jenkins said. “It was like an opening and closing night all in one breath. It was something the students will remember.”

One bright side for the department is that students are receiving more one-on-one time with instructors, albeit through a computer screen.

“Our teachers are working overtime,” Jenkins said. “It’s a reminder of why I’m lucky to be at Ball State. Our faculty and staff here are off the charts.”

Bill Jenkins, Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance

The performances were so good. It was like an opening and closing night all in one breath. It was something the students will remember.

Bill JenkinsChair of the Department of Theatre and Dance and Professor of Theatre