Paolo Scardina gets creative with online lectures

Class lectures are broadcast directly from Stroubles Creek and the Duck Pond.

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Across Virginia Tech professors are getting creative to transition their courses to the web because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To limit the spread of the disease, on March 23 all spring semester Virginia Tech classes moved online, rather than in-person. Classes will continue in this format through the end of the semester.

The university communicated the decision to the Hokie community on March 11 as many faculty scrambled to prepare for the change.

One of them, Paolo Scardina, decided to get creative with the location of his classes. Scardina, an assistant professor of practice in the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has been filming parts of his lectures for his three online courses while standing up to his ankles in creeks and waterways around campus and in nearby areas. Scardina teaches courses in fluid mechanics and water resources engineering, so seeing waterways and understanding how they work is an important element of the classes.

Using his own video camera, Scardina is taking his students to the water, virtually. Last week, he waded into Stroubles Creek, which flows into the Duck Pond to record a segment on open channel flow. In one scene, he picks up a red bucket, fills it with water, and pours it into the creek from an incline, demonstrating elevation differences for water flow.

“With online education, we can now do some of the stuff that we weren’t able to do before,” said Scardina, who feels stuck in a traditional classroom because it is not feasible to take large groups of students on field trips.  

“Now I can make the classroom wherever I want,” he said.

Scardina also has filmed in Giles County, and he plans to visit other campus spots, including a stormwater retention pond near the Inn at Virginia Tech, for future video demonstrations this semester.

Already his students are emailing with feedback that the videos are a nice change from a more traditional lecture and Powerpoint slides.

“When you are in the classroom, you are limited to what you can do,” Scardina said. “But with everything remote now, it changes the options.”