PMA prof. offers extra technology help for faculty, students

By: Kathy Hovis,  A&S Communications
April 1, 2020

Last month, as Cornell faculty learned they needed to move quickly to remote instruction, Sara Warner, director of LGBT Studies and associate professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts, realized she had more technical skills than some of her peers.

“In our department, it’s hard to translate what we do to online teaching, especially the live, embodied participant experience,” she said. “I could see the look of concern on some of our faculty members’ faces.”

So, on top of a host of sessions offered by Cornell’s Center for Teaching Innovation, Warner volunteered her help through some special Zoom sessions. After sending out an email to colleagues in her department and others, she ended up with 30 faculty in practice teaching sessions. She hosted additional sessions for graduate students concerned about how to move their classes online and others for undergrads and faculty to share teaching tips with each other.

“Sara has always been a very generous, collaborative and caring person,” said Bruce Levitt, professor in performing and media arts, who took advantage of her sessions. “In my ‘Shakespeare in Context’ class, I needed to figure out how to get two people on the screen without everyone else being visible and Sara helped me figure out a way to do it.”

Judith Byfield, professor of history, said Warner helped her figure out how to better use the whiteboard function of Zoom, as well as several features of screen sharing that had stumped her. In meetings with her seminar students, Byfield can now easily share journal names and article titles, save them and send them by email.

“Those sort of nitty gritty things have been really helpful to me,” she said.

Levitt also appreciated the session Warner hosted for faculty and undergrad and grad students, where the students shared their concerns and ideas for this new remote learning world.

“The students talked about what kinds of things you could do on Zoom that could be interesting and useful to them and others that wouldn’t be as interesting,” he said. “It also made me realize that the fatigue factor will be something to consider – giving the students breaks will be necessary. The session was really the undergrads helping the faculty.”

Warner said some of the faculty were surprised to learn how excited the students are to return to class. “Students were also able to process a little about their lives and how they were feeling,” she said. “They are missing their final projects, and of course graduation.”

Graduate students said they feel especially supported by Warner.

“Especially for those of us affiliated with the FGSS and LGBT Studies programs, she provided space for us to initiate crucial conversations around students' identities, material conditions for learning and safety,” said Lee Tyson, a graduate student in the fields of music and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender studies. “How do we support LGBT students who are not out or don't feel safe at home? Will all students be able to comfortably and safely engage with feminist and queer course content in their new learning environments?”

“Sara is quick to reply to emails, calls, and texts and is available for her students 24/7,” said Kristen Wright, a graduate student in Africana studies.

Warner has also been coming up with interesting projects for the department’s work study students and supporting her parents and grandmother, who all live locally, and a host of local artist friends who are older or have health issues.

“I’m southern and a community-builder, so there’s a certain kind of hospitality I’m used to and try to foster,” she said. “It’s not hard for me to get their groceries when I’m getting my own. We are all in this together.”

Rays of Hope is an ongoing series of stories showing how Cornell faculty, staff, students and alumni are responding with creativity and kindness to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have suggestions for a person to feature, please email Kathy Hovis at kah53@cornell.edu.


  Sara Warner