Yale leaders talk about COVID-19: Part two in a series

In the second part of a series, Provost Scott Strobel discusses online teaching, research, and working at Yale in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Provost Scott A. Strobel

Provost Scott A. Strobel

On March 16, Yale News began publishing a series of interviews with Yale leaders about aspects of the university’s response to the pandemic. We continue today with Provost Scott A. Strobel.

Yale will move all spring courses online in a matter of days. How has Yale been preparing for this?

This is a question of paramount importance, because teaching is the heart of our work. Our scholars are scholar-teachers — not one or the other only. Yale is, and will remain, fully committed to an exceptional educational experience for our students.

Moving our courses online amid unprecedented circumstances is a challenge. But it’s also an opportunity: Out of urgent necessity, we’re reimagining how we teach, and how we could teach. And this work is well underway.

We have launched an intensive effort, coordinated by our Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, to prepare faculty and graduate and professional school teaching assistants for delivering a first-rate intellectual experience online.

They’ve been working closely with Poorvu experts in educational technology and online instruction, with energetic help from library and ITS staff, to transform courses designed for in-person instruction into rigorous and engaging online learning worthy of Yale.

We’ve got the right tools at our disposal, including the videoconferencing software Zoom and the learning management system Canvas. Faculty who don’t normally use them for teaching, including me, have immersed ourselves in it. We’ve also got tools for live group discussion, for replicating the chalk board experience, for polling, and for exam proctoring. Last week, Poorvu was doing multiple in-person daily training sessions at the library, plus remote training online. As a public health precaution, all training has now moved online, but continues.

Our faculty has responded as we would expect — with intelligence, enthusiasm and creativity. I’m following their example. I’m scheduled to give lectures in the “Biology, the World, and Us” course at the end of March. I’ve never taught an online course. But I’m learning fast, and I’m energized by the chance to keep interacting with students, to participate in our educational enterprise in a new way.

I should add that I have been impressed by our faculty, students, and staff in these challenging circumstances. Everyone has demonstrated remarkable patience, flexibility, and willingness to pitch in. Not all students will have high-speed internet at home. Some may not have exactly the books they were using on campus; when they went on spring break, they thought they were coming back two weeks later. Our library staff has undertaken the heroic task of finding digital sources for many readings. It’s efforts like these that are going to make this work.

Research is also a core element of Yale’s mission. How do you keep scholarly research moving forward while, in the interest of the public health, most Yale employees, including faculty, are practicing social distancing and working off campus?

Most labs on campus have had to slow or completely stop their laboratory research operations. Their research has shifted to work that can be done from home, such as analyzing data, writing manuscripts or designing future experiments. It is disruptive, but it is warranted by the seriousness of this health challenge.

But let’s also focus on a positive aspect of Yale’s research. Our researchers, including graduate students, postdocs and research scientists, are among the world’s best. Some of them have the relevant expertise to make a difference in all our lives precisely when society needs a solution. Some of Yale researchers are deeply engaged in helping address our common crisis.

Right now at Yale, there’s work underway in our labs to develop diagnostics and treatments for COVID-19. For instance, there are medical faculty who have been studying the ACE receptors, which the current coronavirus targets — the protein on the cell surface to which the virus attaches. Understanding it, and looking at compounds that could potentially block the virus, is happening in our labs as we speak.

At the same time, our public health experts are tracking the disease and identifying trends as it moves around the planet. All this information helps us make sound decisions for Yale, for ourselves, for our friends, for our families and for our communities. Doing research at Yale is more complicated logistically than it was — but it’s happening, and it’s important for the world that it continues.

Yale has taken the important public health measure of asking employees who are able to work from home to do that. How do you keep Yale as a place going, given the imperative to meet needs that can only be addressed in person?

Many Yale personnel are able to make vital contributions from home, and they are doing so. But it’s important to appreciate that entire teams of critical Yale personnel are coming to campus precisely because Yale and our students depend on their presence. We need police to keep us safe and to respond to emergencies. We need chefs and cooks to feed students who are still on campus because they have no place to go. Facilities personnel are keeping on the lights and power. ITS is meeting Yale’s vital digital demands. Doctors and nurses are tending to the sick. Cleaning crews support all this work. We keep Yale going thanks to their commitment, and I’m profoundly grateful for it.


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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale responds to COVID-19

Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-980-2222