Associate Professor Mary Sheldon reflects on spring semester

Focused on Success: Associate Professor Mary Sheldon looks back on her experience in the spring semester and how she can improve her classes for the fall. She has taught at Washburn since 1987. 

Associate Professor Mary Sheldon has taught countless Washburn University students the finer points of the English since 1987.

Her dedication to helping students learn how to write professionally was tested recently in the past semester as the coronavirus outbreak changed how professors interacted with their classes.

Sheldon teaches a variety of English classes on campus. This past semester, she taught EN 208 Professional Writing, EN 361 World Literature 2 and EN399/HI383 International Film. Each of these courses had to be changed and adapted for online access this spring.

“The challenge was to take the material you would have taught in a face-to-face session and adjust it so that students would be able to engage in the same learning process online, that meant that material had to be adapted and placed on files,” said Sheldon. “New approaches had to occur. In one instance, we were doing quizzes, and we switched it to discussion posts instead. I had to come up with new strategies for dealing with this issue.”

Yet, even though this semester had numerous difficulties involved with transferring classwork to an online platform and making sure that her students could access the work, Sheldon remained optimistic throughout the ordeal and looks back on the spring in a positive light.

“I thought the semester was much better than expected,” said Sheldon. “This was the first time we had to do this emergency switch from face-to-face classes. It went amazingly smoothly in my opinion.”

The challenges that Sheldon encountered were also endured by her students as well who had to adapt to the changing situation at the university and in their homes.

“I would say that despite the pandemic and the economic impact that this has had on every single American, I would say the semester went very well,” said Paeton McCarty, a political science sophomore. “The transition online was mildly bad at the beginning as I had only taken a class in high school. Regardless of all that, I would say it went very well.”

The sudden changes wrought by the viral outbreak left faculty, staff and students with little time to react and create a comprehensive plan for how to overcome the following weeks.

“When this whole thing happened, it was such a jarring experience,” said Alexis Muñoz, a junior computer information science major. “Professor Sheldon tried to make it as easy as possible for us to access class material, which was very helpful.”

Changing the entire structure of multiple classes in a short amount of time was one of Sheldon’s largest headaches.

“Everyone would have liked to have had more time to fine-tune this adjustment,” said Sheldon. “I believe we had about half of spring break and a week after to be notified. When you have four or more classes, that’s a lot of work to prepare them for online and in such a short amount of time. I had a very busy spring break.”

Sheldon remarked that her “super-power students” were a large reason why the spring semester went as well as it did.

“Though we call them students, I’m not sure I will use that word in the same way again,” said Sheldon. “I’ll call them professionals from now on. They just moved into this transition when the courses were ready for them. I was just astounded by the compliance with that. Students have to juggle many things, not just D2L and online. The students are more than what that word usually implies.”

After having learned many hard lessons in the spring semester along with many other students and staff, Sheldon plans to be prepared for whatever comes in the fall by having all of her coursework ready for another online transition if necessary. She wants her coursework to be accessible to students no matter what comes, so that they can get the most out of their education at Washburn.

Students already appreciate the work Sheldon does.

“She does a fantastic job, she gives you great input on assignments and papers,” said Muñoz. “She shows you what you’re doing right and wrong.”

Sheldon’s many years of teaching experience allow her to meet the needs of Washburn students.

“She gave one of the best balances between course load and lecture that I’ve ever seen,” said Paeton. “There’s a good balance between coursework and lectures in her class at Washburn. She offers a unique environment, mostly by treating it as business environment.”


Writer Bio: Matthew L. Self, [email protected], earned his Bachelor of Arts in English and returns to Washburn for a major in political science.