Batten Faculty and Students Elevate UVA's Virtual January Term Offerings

Batten Professor David Leblang's "Pandemics Beyond the Headlines: COVID-19" and Professor Gabrielle Adams' "Leadership in Athletics" were among the standout virtual courses offered by UVA this January. Contributions from Batten's Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming and Batten student Terrell Jana (BA '21) brought an experiential lens to some of today’s critical issues, preparing students to meet future challenges.

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications

Some January term courses at the University of Virginia enrolled more than 400 students. Some had 15. All challenged students to devote the term’s two weeks, Jan. 4 through 15, to making the most of a virtual format instead of in-person. By a slew of accounts, the 100-plus courses provided exciting and lasting experiences for instructors and students alike.

Several courses covered topics that were “evolving in real time,” as one professor put it, including threats to U.S. democracy and the threat from a new strain of the coronavirus.

Many aimed at helping students understand and analyze present challenges, whether they be tied to the pandemic, politics, climate change or inequality, said Dudley Doane, who directs J-Term, international, summer and special programs.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our entire J-Term staff and all our faculty for developing this robust, innovative format and content on a short timeline," said Liz Magill, executive vice president and provost. "This year’s J-Term showcases their creativity and dedication to providing a meaningful learning experience for our students.”

With large virtual lectures, professors turned to teams of teaching assistants, who usually led smaller groups in afternoon sessions. They also incorporated visiting speakers into their virtual classrooms, used the case-study method and assigned small-group projects.

Here are several examples of January term courses that made an impact on many students.

Pandemics Beyond the Headlines: COVID-19

Taught by Batten's David Leblang, professor of politics, and Roseanne Ford, professor of chemical engineering, this signature course held 500 students, from first-years to fourth-years, across several schools and many different majors. That didn’t deter from making the course “something special,” as third-year student Jack MacLeod wrote, adding that the instructors “organized, guided and taught hundreds of students with a degree of excitement, engagement and sincerity that I have not yet encountered in a virtual setting.”

Every day they had “the students read one or two newspaper articles so that they could apply the tools that we were covering to the news that they were reading,” Leblang wrote in email, with other daily assigned materials also including podcasts, journal articles and a movie about the HIV/AIDS crisis. Ford covered virology and that helped when the new coronavirus strains started emerging.

Even though they were teaching a course about a topic that was evolving in real time, Leblang said they wanted every discussion to have a foundation of knowledge that would be transferable outside of COVID.

Leblang said they aimed to give students “some literacy when it comes to understanding viruses and virology, the politics of regulation, and the physical and psychological dimensions of pandemic disease.”

One activity that started and ended the course was a pandemic simulation game developed by the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy’s Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming. The students played various roles, such as prime minister, minister of finance, minister of public health, World Health Organization representative. They “made decisions about what policies to implement as they were seeing data about case numbers, deaths, public approval rating, impact on GDP, etc. They could also see the impact of policies on countries neighboring their own,” Ford wrote in email.

“We’re convinced that these big complex problems require interdisciplinary approaches,” she said.

Leadership in Athletics

Role-playing, guest speakers and case-study team projects also featured in “Leadership in Athletics,” a smaller class of 36 students taught by the Batten School’s Gabrielle Adams, assistant professor of public policy and psychology; Jim Detert, John L. Colley Professor of Business Administration in the Darden School of Business; and Evan Bruno, lecturer in the School of Law and Ph.D. candidate in Darden’s leadership and organizational behavior department.

With their combined expertise and experience, the instructors brought in a diverse group of guests and had UVA Athletics administrators talk with students and judge final presentations.

For example, Steve Clagett, a current Darden MBA student, shared what he’d learned from playing varsity lacrosse at Notre Dame, from serving as a Navy Seal and then selecting and developing future Navy Seals, and from working as an intern for the Baltimore Ravens. Terrell Jana, a fourth-year Batten student and member of the UVA football team focusing on the 2021 NFL Draft, described his decision to play the most recent season without a name on the back of his jersey.

First-year student Jewel Elliott, who has spent a majority of her life playing soccer, wrote that she “wanted to understand how these team relations can be modified to be applied to other sorts of leadership situations and dynamics that occur in the professional world.” 

Jefferson Dockter, a fourth-year American studies major, wrote that the class was “an unforgettable experience.” The professors and guest speakers, he wrote, “helped us uncover after each case whether or not the pros outweighed the cons in the conclusive decisions made, and that learning from our decisions is vital when it comes to molding into great leaders, regardless of the occupation or field.” 

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