A focus on community from a distance

Mount Holyoke’s KC Haydon flipped her classroom to make discussion and building community among her students the focus of her course.

By Keely Sexton

When Katherine C. “KC” Haydon, associate professor of psychology, thought about adapting her Developmental Psychology course for Mount Holyoke College’s Flexible Immersive Teaching model of remote teaching, she faced some serious obstacles.

The constraints of COVID-19, and with her students spread around the world, meant that Haydon would have far less synchronous time to devote to delivering the material she would typically spread over a semester. What’s more, because of the module system, she would have only seven-and-a-half weeks to foster connections and communication among her students, which is a crucial element in her classes. 

“I was really nervous about how it would translate,” she said. 

Haydon worked with the faculty and Library, Information and Technology Services to redesign her course. She was impressed by the support and enthusiasm of her Mount Holyoke colleagues, many of whom were in the midst of the same process.

“I saw widespread commitment to learning about flipped classroom techniques and learning about how to teach small courses in an online format. People rose to the challenge in a really wholehearted way,” she said.

Haydon pre-recorded lectures for her students to watch prior to class so that they could hit the ground running during synchronous class times. After a full semester of implementing the technique, her perspective has shifted. 

“I’ve fallen in love with it,” she said. 

In a typical in-person class, Haydon would invite her students to watch a brief film and then spend some time discussing it. But to work within the time constraints and to capitalize on the synchronous times that the class had together, she decided to provide additional viewing and reading material outside of class as well.

“I tried to really focus on core themes so that we could build students’ understanding of those themes over time,” she said. “The pre-recorded format allowed me to do a lot more dynamic things in class to give them time to get to know each other and open up a little bit more.”

For Alisa Lopez ’22 from Nashville, Tennessee, Haydon’s course was the first time she felt truly connected to her academic community. Lopez, who with her sister, was the first in her family to pursue higher education, struggled with the demands of college in her first year. Her second year — the year she signed up for Haydon’s class — was her opportunity to reset. 

“KC was a really great resource for me,” said. Having the course material in advance gave Lopez the opportunity to spend as much time as she needed with it. She was also able to connect with Haydon for additional support.

“I found the pre-lecture videos very helpful,” said Lopez. “It gave me a chance to really digest the material, take notes, go back and listen again, and really connect with it. And then you go to class and have meaningful and rich conversations.”

After the course, Lopez declared her major in psychology and hopes to explore ways to support first-generation college students like her.

Haydon is looking forward to the return of in-person classes, but the remote experience has given her new tools and techniques that she looks forward to carrying with her.

“I'm grateful to work in a place where the faculty, staff and students are all bringing their best intentions and effort to this time,” she said.