Dr. Frank Wilson, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs, has taught sociology and criminal justice courses at Pitt-Greensburg since 1998. Now, he works as the assistant vice president for Academic Affairs, continues to teach, and advises students.
He says, “Without a doubt, our goal is to ensure the success of our students.”
Dr. Frank Wilson was the coordinator of Introduction to Knowledge, working with multiple other faculty members, such as Michael Pry, Dr. Kristen Asplin, and Dr. Jacqueline Horrall. Introduction To Knowledge was a summer course to introduce faculty to Zoom and Canvas’s tools.
“I am really glad we organized the course to test out [the Flex@Pitt] model of teaching. We had one camera set up in Cassell Hall with the IT guys in the room while we all had our masks on and were spaced out,” he said.
The start was not easy.
“At the beginning, it was the worst teaching experience I’ve had,” Dr. Wilson said.
Teaching online was a new experience for Dr. Wilson, and it took him some time to feel comfortable teaching hybrid courses.
“If I know I have a dozen people in front of me, that’s my audience I’m normally addressing, but then there’s forty-something people that I can’t see, that are remote. And there’s a screen with a bunch of little faces on it, and there’s a chat box — I was totally confused and flabbergasted,” he said. “Every time I turned my head to look at the screen, maybe to figure out what was happening in the chat and then also trying not to neglect the people in the room, my glasses, because of my mask, continued to fog up!”
Faculty spent the majority of their summer break in preparation for Flex@Pitt.
“The bottom line is that a lot of people worked all summer long. I think we were as well-positioned, if not better-positioned, than any other school within the university since the semester started,” he said, acknowledging that nothing is perfect, but it’s all beyond where he thought it would be.
However, just because the summer was over didn’t mean that the preparation was too.
“We haven’t stopped prepping because we had faculty that weren’t even using Blackboard [before the pandemic.] Most of us had incorporated that into our teaching, but some of us were old school,” Dr. Wilson said. “Old school meaning you walked into the classroom, you saw all your students, you wrote on the chalkboard, and that’s what we really enjoyed. That kind of teaching has changed.”
Dr. Wilson was not “happy or comfortable” with the switch initially, but he has now gained insight on how valuable this new style of teaching can be.
“I actually think that we should all be understanding when the pandemic is over, that we’re going to see a lot more of this mixed approach that will be permanent,” he said. “There’s some aspects of this flex model that I think are valuable. Not for everything, but I can see it being useful, especially when people start getting more comfortable with all the bells and whistles.”
A major concern for Dr. Wilson is “making sure the substance of the courses are not diminished by the technology.” He knows that professors are doing all they can to prevent this.
“I know we’re trying hard. I know we’re constantly upgrading. For instance, the Community for Advancement of Teaching is running regular sessions where people can go for help,” he said, “where people are sharing things they are doing with the technology- because there’s a lot of good teachers here. That’s what’s always been, that’s who we are.”
Dr. Wilson would know, because he’s been teaching at Pitt-Greensburg for over 23 years.
“When I first came here in 1998, it was hard to not be caught up in the excitement of the way of the community, the way we taught, and the fact that we can have close interactions and develop relationships with our students,” he said. “That’s why we teach.”
Dr. Wilson does not require his students’ cameras to say on for class, but he does say it’s been problematic.
“I am concerned when I can’t see them because I can’t see their reactions, and sometimes that means I don’t even know they’re there,” Dr. Wilson said. “There have been stories about faculty trying to talk to a specific student online, but it’s clear they’re not there because there’s no response.”
Despite the challenges he’s faced, Dr. Wilson is grateful for how his experience has been so far.
“I’m really lucky. We all still have our jobs. All over the country, staff and faculty are being laid off, and we’re not. I am so grateful for that. I also don’t have young children, like some of my colleagues do,” Dr. Wilson said. “It really is a tough act when your children are at home while you’re supposed to be working, helping them study, and doing all these other things. I feel for them, because I do have less to juggle in that sense.”
Dr. Wilson’s also adjusting to not being able to spend time with his family, particularly his sons and their families.
“My middle son, Jesse, who is a graduate from Pitt-Greensburg, got married in June. It was going to be the first time all of my big family was going to come out and see us in Pittsburgh. They tried to reschedule in September,” Dr. Wilson said. “Wishful thinking. It got canceled again, and they just got married, missing out on the big wedding. We’re hoping at some point next year we can have a big celebration, and maybe some of the out-of-town folks can come in for that.”
While these times for Dr. Wilson has been difficult, he has a special place he goes to clear his mind.
“This is frightening. And so, at the end of a really full, or intense sort of day, I come home, go up to the third floor and unwind with my guitars. It was originally called the ‘sanctuary.’ That’s how my wife set it up, because she does yoga and meditates,” Dr. Wilson said. “It has sky light, a view, and so that’s where I hold up and do some work here. Plus, I found it’s the room that has the best internet connections!”
Dr. Wilson has been doing his best to keep a positive outlook for the future, even though the spring semester may not look very different from this one.
“That’s one of the things I love about my job: the ability to continue to grow,” he said. “It’s constantly stimulating. It’s the best thing I can hope for to continue.”