COVID Class Breaks Records

Online Offering Was UMW’s Largest Ever

Future academics may study the COVID-19 pandemic, but UMW’s professors didn’t wait to learn from hindsight. As the coronavirus swept the United States and the world in late spring, the College of Arts and Sciences devised an online course to examine the pandemic in real time, from multiple academic perspectives.

In June and July, UMW’s COVID-19 in Context lecture series explored every aspect of the pandemic, from the science of the coronavirus itself to its economic, social, political, and artistic impacts.

Created as a for-credit student class but offered for free to all, it quickly became UMW’s largest course ever. More than 1,900 people participated from 39 states; Washington, D.C.; and foreign countries including Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Japan, and Ghana.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to showcase the university at this very critical time,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger, who facilitated the course with Anand Rao, chair of the Department of Communication and Digital Studies.

Nearly 40 faculty members from across the university and a few guest speakers shared their expertise via 16 hourlong Zoom sessions. Each session was recorded, captioned, and posted online.

Rao, who taught “Communicating COVID-19: How We Talk About a Pandemic Changes What We Do” with Assistant Professor of Communication Elizabeth Johnson-Young, said faculty involved with the series were floored by its popularity. Hundreds of enrolled and incoming students signed up, as did more than 1,000 alumni, faculty, staff, and community members.

A father and son living in Japan let Mellinger know they got up at 4 a.m. to watch the classes live.

Among the offerings was “COVID and the 2020 U.S. Presidential and Congressional Elections” featuring professors of political science Stephen Farnsworth and Rosalyn Cooperman.

“Viruses don’t care about politics, but political parties, candidates, and voters have responded to the pandemic,” Cooperman said, in ways she predicted would affect the fall presidential and congressional elections.

Other offerings looked at the intersection of the pandemic with the Black Lives Matter movement; the pandemic’s implications for climate change; the effects of COVID-19 on K-12 education; how the fine arts have represented plagues and pandemics throughout history; how geographers, scientists, and mathematicians map and predict the spread of COVID; the chemistry of sanitizers and disinfectants; and more.

“The last several weeks have been very difficult for all of us,” Mellinger said in June. “This course has pulled us together and solidified our strong sense of community and commitment to service,” he said. “We really are all in this together.”

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