Instructional Highlights

UW–Madison instructors have been investing great thought and effort into making their virtual classrooms engaging, inclusive and supportive. We asked a cross-section of them to reflect on their remote classes and to share, in particular, how they’ve worked to build a strong sense of community among students. In many cases, instructors say they’ve learned new approaches that will enrich their in-person teaching when campus is fully open again.

This Week’s Instructional Highlight

Christopher Walker, Dance Department

‘We can’t go back:’ How the pandemic transformed teaching and learning for one professor

It’s been a year of considerable reflection for Professor Christopher Walker, a faculty member of the Dance Department. With the pandemic moving so many people further online, he has observed changes in the way art is created and consumed globally, in the way he teaches, and in the way his students engage in learning. Read more.

Valentín Picasso Risso, Department of Agronomy

Through Zoom, agronomy professor brings farmers from around the world to his students

In teaching students about crops and farming in other parts of the world, Valentín Picasso Risso often incorporates field trips closer to home — area greenhouses that grow tropical plants or Wisconsin farms operated by recent immigrants.  Read more.

Jerome Camal, Department of Anthropology

‘Academic reading circles’ help anthropology students bond while tackling scholarly texts

Even under the best circumstances, Anthro 237 can be challenging for students, says Associate Professor Jerome Camal. The course on music and race in the Caribbean attracts many non-music majors, who take it as an elective.  Read more.

Laurie Brachman, Wisconsin School of Business

A marketing instructor designs her virtual class, not surprisingly, through the eyes of a marketer

During one memorable lecture each semester in her large face-to-face Marketing Management class, Laurie Brachman hands each student a two-pack of Oreos. The students analyze everything about the cookie — how it looks, how it tastes, what feelings it evokes — then discuss how Nabisco has capitalized on those traits in its branding. Read more.

Linn Posey-Maddox, School of Education

Through surveys, instructor learns the needs of students — and helps students get to know each other

Linn Posey-Maddox regularly surveys her students before the start of each semester to get to know them, and then again mid-semester to assess how things are going. It’s a good way, she says, to find out a range of things, from different learning styles to concerns a student might have about the course. Read more.

Betsy Stovall, Department of Mathematics

Math instructor increases student engagement with ‘hybrid’ approach to virtual office hours

When the pandemic forced Betsy Stovall to move her large calculus class online last spring, she wondered how it would affect her office hours, which also became entirely virtual. The answer came soon enough. Read more.

Rosemary Russ, School of Education

Leaning into the virtual format, professor ‘disrupts’ her approach and deepens student learning

Rosemary Russ saw the change to online teaching as an opportunity not just to recreate what she had done in face-to-face instruction, but instead to really disrupt the way teaching and learning are done at the university level. Read more.

Wei Dong, School of Human Ecology

A visual artist leans into design elements to build strong bonds with students

Before the pandemic, Wei Dong could best be described as a skeptic of remote learning. He had never used cameras to record or virtually communicate with students. “I am extremely passionate about in-person teaching because of the connection between teacher and student,” says Dong. Read more.

Mou Banerjee, Department of History

Multiple building blocks construct a solid foundation for First-Year Interest Group (FIG) students

Mou Banerjee approached virtual teaching last fall like an architect. She knew she’d need to design a sturdy foundation so that the students in her First-Year Interest Group (FIG) felt safe, supported and ready to learn. Read more.

Megan McDermott, University of Wisconsin Law School

Detailed self-assessment tool helps students monitor, improve class participation

Megan McDermott says students sometimes point out that she “over-engineers” things in her classes. She doesn’t deny it. “I always think it’s better to over-engineer something at the start, then take away things you don’t need later,” she says. Read more.

Jason Kwan, School of Pharmacy

To present complicated concepts online, professor dips toe into animation

Last summer, as Jason Kwan researched the components of effective online learning, he noted that popular educational YouTube videos used a lot of animation and visual aids and a relatively low amount of text. Read more.

We’ll add more to the Instructional Highlights series throughout the spring semester, so please check back regularly. If you’d like to pass along an approach that’s worked for you or have a suggestion for an instructor we might want to reach out to, please contact us at