Program News - Spring 2020

As many of you may be aware, the University recently transitioned to virtual learning in response to COVID-19.  And although this situation has led to modifications in how we approach our teaching work, one constant that has not changed is our steadfast commitment to continued excellence in funeral service education. 

By quickly adopting new teaching and learning strategies to our work in the context of this pandemic, our students, faculty, and staff are boldly living our mission in spite of challenging times.  What follows are updates concerning our program that we hope you will find both informative and helpful.

Zoom and Canvas

By now, I suspect many of you have had some experience using Zoom, or at least have heard about Zoom and how it is being used to help keep people connected.  Simply explained, Zoom is a software program that allows people to video conference with one another using their computers, a camera, and a microphone.  Applied to the University setting, faculty now hold class “virtually” with their students, host “webinar” meetings, and interact with others “live” in a manner that ensures safety through social distancing. 

An interesting note is that the University adopted Zoom as a communication tool last year.  In fact, prior to COVID-19, many of us were already using Zoom for virtual meetings when it was either not possible or inconvenient to meet in-person.  Faculty member Michael Mathews, for example, began using Zoom as a means of teaching from a distance his Microbiology, Pathology, and Chemistry coursework back in January! 

Since moving all courses over to virtual learning in late March, our program faculty have been using Zoom to meet with students during normally-scheduled class times, as well as for virtual “office hours” and other meetings.  Although we miss seeing our students on campus, Zoom has proven to be a helpful tool for us to remain connected to one another.

Canvas, on the other hand, is a software-based learning management platform.  Each class we offer has its own Canvas site.  Faculty members post course content in Canvas, including assignments, grades, and supplemental learning activities, and students can access this information at any time. 

Faculty are also able to create quizzes, tests, and exams in Canvas.  As part of Canvas, there is a software application called “Proctorio” which is a test proctoring tool.  When a student takes a test in Canvas, their computer’s camera and microphone are used to virtually proctor (hence the name “Proctorio”) the student for the goal of ensuring the integrity and validity of the exam.   Again, Professor Mathews was using these tools for some of his courses prior to the movement to virtual learning.  All faculty are using Canvas and Proctorio to assess student learning in their courses.

Outreach and Community Connections

Zoom is allowing us to connect with our colleagues in their service to families affected by COVID-19.  On Wednesday, April 15th, lab Teaching Specialist Trista Sharkey will present a one-hour CEU event to practitioners discussing ways of serving families who have experienced a death resulting from COVID-19.  As of this writing, over 200 individuals have signed up to attend her Zoom presentation.  The presentation will be recorded and offered at a future date and time for those not able to attend on the 15th.  The Program offers this education free of charge as part of our outreach to the funeral service community.

Another Zoom learning event planned for April 15th is a presentation by Lacy Robinson, who as many of you know is a nationally recognized speaker on funeral arranger training.  Lacy has prepared a presentation specifically for mortuary science students, entitled: You Got This! Practical Ways to Serve Families During COVID-19.  This event is being co-hosted by myself and my colleague Martha Thayer, who serves as the Director of the Mortuary Science Program at Arapahoe Community College in Denver.  Students from both our programs are invited to attend, with the presentation being hosted using the University’s Zoom learning tool.  This is one way that we are collaborating with colleagues across the country to advance student learning in mortuary science. 

And at our students’ request, we are hosting two additional Zoom seminars to take us through the end of the semester.  One event will consist of a panel of practitioners talking about ways their funeral homes are serving families in the context of COVID-19.  This event will also be co-hosted with Martha Thayer and will include practitioners from both Minnesota and Colorado.  The final student seminar will involve a discussion of financial literacy.  Our guest presenter will be our very own Tom Anderson, whose blog The Funeral Director Daily is read by hundreds of people from across the country each day.  We are excited to bring these learning opportunities to our students, using technology that is relatively new to us.

Other Program Happenings

An unfortunate result of COVID-19 has been the cancellation of graduation ceremonies that were scheduled to take place this May.  I have discussed with our Student Leaders how they want to proceed with graduation activities, and they requested we reschedule the ceremony at a future date on campus, once it is safe to do so.  I will send out updates once we have more information.

On a different note, please be advised that the University has suspended all clinical rotation activities for the time being.  We will be creating a virtual clinical rotation course over May Term that will meet curriculum-related accreditation requirements for those students scheduled to graduate this year.  We look forward to resuming our clinical activities and student placement at clinical sites as soon as it is safe to do so. 

In closing, please know that we deeply appreciate all that you do to support our great University, the Program of Mortuary Science, and especially the exceptional students who come to us to study mortuary science.  We value all of you as program partners and supporters, and stand with you as together we work to serve the needs of the families whom we are called to serve during the most difficult times in their lives.

Michael LuBrant
Program Director