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As online education and virtual classrooms slowly become the norm, students and teachers alike continue to tackle new challenges together. With even the smallest of classes transitioning to the online format, these changes have encouraged everyone to figure out new ways to overcome distractions.

USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology Associate Professor John Walsh, assistant dean of education, is an expert in online instruction and has dedicated time to mastering the online classroom and providing valuable insight for both students and teachers.

“Discussions are interactive, and students respond by articulating what they have learned,” Walsh said. “Students have to have substantive posts and comment on their classmates posts. In the end, they get to know one another better because they are interacting every week. It engages all aspects of learning.”

He guides professors, as they adapt to the new classroom environment, to engage with the students in new and innovative ways that they might not have otherwise considered in a physical setting. Additionally, Walsh encourages everyone to plan activities in advance to keep the body and mind stimulated. He’s shared his techniques for online education with colleagues at the USC Leonard Davis School and throughout USC.

Video: Associate Professor John Walsh of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology hosted a virtual pep rally for his students in Gero 315, “A Journey into the Mind.”

Kaitlyn Yi, a sophomore in the Lifespan Health program, took a summer gerontology class and is preparing to take on the upcoming semester from her home in Chicago, Illinois. Her experiences with online courses since the previous spring semester have improved since the format changes implemented by the university.

“Online teaching was beneficial for me in that I was able to work at my own pace; pre-recorded lectures and adjustments to due dates prevented me from overworking and worrying about time zone differences, Yi said. “But, while it also has its cons, I hope that online teaching can be as effective as in-person teaching and help me apply myself in meaningful ways.”

Students in the Student Gerontology Association have also helped keep students active by providing a variety of remote volunteer opportunities for students, including an online food drive, and planning more events as the semester moves along. Activities such as the Intergenerational Phone Chain, started by doctoral candidate Carly Roman, have not only sustained students but also have connected them with older adults in times where social isolation can run rampant given distancing restrictions.

Ariana Chen, a senior in the Human Development and Aging Program, said, “I’m really sad that my senior year has been moved online, but I know it’s the right thing to do, especially with the growing number of cases in LA. The best thing I did when classes were first moved online was switch back to a physical planner to keep track of all of my assignments, meetings, and commitments – I had previously been relying entirely on Google Calendar and my Reminders app.”

While there are no certainties on what the classroom may look like in a few months or a few years for that matter, being able to adapt to the new normal is essential for success. Walsh and his gerontology colleagues rely on a proactive approach to teaching, giving their students the resources to further their education with the newfound free time they have at home. As a faculty, they continue to update classes using feedback from students and colleagues, he says.

Top: Zoom screenshot of Walsh’s students holding up four fingers to represent their course, Gero 414, Neurobiology of Aging.

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