newcovid_class

Brannon created the course at the beginning of the summer.

With COVID-19 taking over many aspects of the JMU community, a group of professors came together to educate students about the underlying effects COVID-19 may have.

The topics, which were decided based on the professors who joined the class, include chemistry, health, history, philosophy and writing, rhetoric and technical communication.

Rebecca Brannon, a professor in the history department, created the course at the beginning of the summer and teaches the section on historical thinking about pandemics. 

“I had seen flyers for a similar concept at another institution,” Brannon said. “I approached some other faculty and said, ‘What if we put together this course and used so many different perspectives?’”

The first professor Brannon reached out to for help was Audrey Burnett, who’s responsible for the portion on the public health effects of COVID-19. 

“[Dr. Brannon] said, ‘Gosh, it would be nice if we could create a course for students that focuses on COVID-19 but from various perspectives,’” Burnett said. “Then I said, ‘Gosh, it would be even better if we could rein in other faculty who might share expertise from their disciplines but still focusing all on COVID-19.’”

The class was first taught over the summer over a six-week slot with five professors. With the two extra weeks in the fall semester, the class added two additional professors and topics.

Taking the class fulfills the health sciences major and minor elective, Honors elective, medical humanities minor elective, STS minor elective, WRTC TSC concentration elective and WRTC crossover elective.

Michael Klein, who teaches the section on rhetoric of COVID-19, said he believes a class that focuses on many different topics is important for students because he’s always “been a firm believer in cross-disciplinary education.” 

“It’s something that helps students acclimate to their future careers,” Klein said. “We don’t work in isolation, we work across different disciplines and different expertise in our jobs and careers.” 

The portion on reliability of scientific studies is taught by Christopher Berndsen. Berndsen said that he’s never collaborated with professors from different majors in the same class but finds it “certainly interesting.”

“I don’t often teach non-science majors on any level, so I’ve really enjoyed breaking out of the students I would normally see and learning some different perspectives from across campus,” Berndsen said.

Klein said having a course that jumps from topic to topic quickly can be difficult and disconcerting for the students.

“Although we try to make everything uniform as much as possible, there’s going to be slight differences in what our expectations are for an assignment,” Klein said.

Berndsen teaches the second week of the course, so he said he often wonders if the students are still doing OK by the end.

“For me, it’s a struggle to make personal connections with the students and to have a sense of who they are really,” Berndsen said.

Despite this, Klein said that because the class is cross-disciplinary, he believes “the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses.”

With COVID-19 continuing to impact life at JMU, Klein said this class aims to offer a better understanding about COVID-19 as an infectious disease.

“It’s such a timely topic,” Burnett said. “I’m hoping that we can continue teaching it.”

Contact Eda Tercan at tercanea@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.