Some USC professors make their online classes fun and engaging to keep students focused

In the time of social distancing, some students feel more connected and engaged in online classes when the professor implement innovative teaching techniques.

As the university enters its second week of online instruction via Zoom, students and professors are still adjusting to the new platform. Some USC professors have innovated ways to make the transition to online classes more positive, stress-free, and entertaining to secure students’ attention and alleviate stress amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kathleen Dunn-Muzingo, associate professor of theatre practice in voice and movement, said in a phone interview with Annenberg Media that she motivates her class with a full-body warm-up, as well as meditation before the class starts.

“Sometimes we do yawning, shaking, circling, and a voice warm-up [as] part of the actor training,” Dunn-Muzingo said.

Dunn-Muzingo added that she utilizes video sharing as a way of engaging students during online sessions, and students have the opportunity to do online presentations and discussions. In addition, Dunn-Muzingo said taking breaks during classes is important to keep students focused.

“I use different modes of keeping people engaged in Zoom,” said Dunn-Muzingo. “[Transitioning my class to online session] is a high learning curve, because most of [the class] is training voice and speech and about human connections being present.”

Morgan Rysso, a freshman majoring in theatre, is one of the students in Dunn-Muzingo’s class this semester. She described her experience in the class over email with Annenberg Media.

“We basically just have a dance party,” Rysso said. “[Professor Dunn-Muzingo] tries to get us up on our feet because she knows that we are doing a lot of seated work for most of our classes.”

Thomas Ryan, professor of the practice of accounting, told Annenberg Media in a phone interview that he dressed up in a Tommy Trojan helmet during his first online class to show his Trojan pride while also keeping his students actively engaged in the lecture.

“When I’ve been lecturing at home I try to have something with USC — a USC sweatshirt or USC pullover,” Ryan said. “When I was recording in my office [before transitioning to online classes], I had a USC banner.”

Ryan said keeping students focused is more difficult during online sessions where he cannot walk through students and call their names as he does during in-person classes.

“You want to catch students' attention so that they're not drifting and focusing on YouTube [or] social media,” Ryan said.

Cassie Howell, a sophomore majoring in cinematic arts, film and television production, said her SDA professor Kirsten Quade Eggers has used the change to remote learning as an opportunity for new on-the-spot acting exercises, including a scenario where students improvised a segment as hosts of the home shopping network. Utilizing random items around their house, Eggers’ students presented an item to the class as though they were trying to sell it on TV.

“Out of everyone, it doesn't surprise me that an improv teacher would be the best at improvising a way to reinvent their class,” said Howell. “I’m impressed at how flexible she's been about our assignments, teaching improv and coming up with new games.”

Eggers told Annenberg Media in a phone interview that she has been exploring the Zoom functions together with her students. She would ask students in the acting class to rename themselves on Zoom based on their characters. She would also tell her students that “our intention word of the day is ‘play.’ Let’s just be playful in this new space.”

Frank Corsetti, professor of earth science, was featured on Barstool USC for teaching about bones while eating chicken wings. He is keeping his students engaged through many Zoom humorous antics.

Lexie Krupske, a business major sophomore, was hesitant to take a science GE, but said that Corsetti has made the course work fun and that his humor has only continued to entertain students on Zoom.

“You can tell on [his] video lectures that the class is engaged,” Krupske said. “In most of my classes, students don’t even show their camera, but in [Corsetti’s] class, all of the students are staring at their screen, even recording and laughing at his shenanigans.”