Dr. Kristen Asplin is a professor of psychology and is the director for the Community for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT), where she guides the enhancement of education of the Pitt-Greensburg campus while teaching students.
CAT has multiple main goals, including “gathering information from outside expertise, such as guest speakers, faculty training seminars, and individual consultation to share with the community,” and “assessing the effectiveness of various teaching techniques as they are implemented on campus.”
Dr. Asplin enjoys supporting the teaching and instruction occurring on campus while focusing on her goals as a director of CAT.
“My goal is to help all faculty, staff, and instructors on this campus have access to the latest teaching methods and technology to continue to deliver high-quality education,” she said.
Dr. Asplin was involved, with many other faculty members, in the organization of the training sessions that took place over the summer and continue to occur through the upcoming winter break.
“The Center for Teaching and Learning on the Main Pitt campus held training sessions which was the first source of information for our staff. It was incredible how quickly they mobilized very large zoom classes, during the shutdown in March, with 200+ faculty attending in the week after spring break. They have been an extremely valuable resource,” Dr. Asplin said. “Our CAT sessions started after classes were complete in the spring. They were every Monday for one to two hours from May 25 to August 10.”
Dr. Asplin feels the training sessions went very well.
“I have been overwhelmed at how many people have thanked me, and continue to thank me, for organizing these sessions. I probably got to benefit from these sessions the most out of anyone,” she said. “For two reasons – You always learn more about a topic when you have to teach it to someone else, and I got to practice teaching online all summer!”
There were mentoring sessions, equipment set-ups, Zoom meetings, and a new course held over the summer for incoming freshmen called Introduction to Knowledge. Dr. Asplin helped organize and teach this class as well.
Dr. Asplin’s workload has doubled because of the Flex@Pitt model, as she’s incorporating new technology, making sure materials are available online, and constantly on her computer for a virtual meeting or email response. She thinks other faculty are likely in the same boat.
“We are all probably working 60 hours a week or more redesigning everything. And when you’re using new technology, it often takes longer to get things done,” she said. “Almost every computer program I use on a daily basis was either new to me or changed in some way, like the my.pitt.edu interface.”
Dr. Asplin was admittedly reluctant to learn and utilize new technology before this year. She was concerned that students would either skip class, or not watch the videos at all, which would be problematic, since she knows that live lectures are most effective.
“I’ve learned that students sometimes like to have both – attend the lecture on zoom, then watch the parts they didn’t understand again later. I’m sure there will be more things we learn in this giant educational experiment that was forced upon us, and it won’t be all bad,” she said.
The most challenging aspect of teaching for many faculty right now is not the workload, or the technology, but juggling that and family matters.
Dr. Asplin understands this and would like to receive more support from the University “in the form or course releases or support for individual day care arrangements.” However, she understands that they are “much more expensive than the day care centers, many of which are closed, and the University is losing revenue from lower enrollment and fewer students staying in housing. It’s really difficult.”
She does not have to worry about young children, but Dr. Asplin empathizes for the faculty that does.
“My youngest is 15 and can do most of her work on her own, but there are faculty with younger children and faculty with special-needs children who are basically responsible for supervising their children 24/7 and working 40 to 60 hours a week at their university job,” she said. “It’s really impossible. The stress and strain on their mental health is unbelievable. And we are losing so much creative research and writing from these people as well.”
Dr. Asplin has two daughters — one at home who is fifteen and one at college. Her husband works at home half-time along with her. They usually enjoy movie nights together, watching Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter marathons while playing Uno, Clue, and completing puzzles for family game nights.
“Lately, there have been fewer family nights. I think we’re all burn-out, overworked, and stressed. We’ve been going to walk to a local park now. I have an 11-year-old pup I take out and cuddle with,” she said. “Psychology says I shouldn’t be working in my bedroom. I should not be stressing in the place I’m relaxing! I stress bake. All of the family recipes have come out now.”
Dr. Asplin said that although this year hasn’t been the easiest, it’s been a good learning experience.
“When I look back in a few years,” she said, “I will appreciate all the growth and change that this pandemic required of us.”