Ordering food at a kiosk

Pandemic Innovations: Some COVID-driven changes will remain

March 21, 2021

University News

As the campus community worked diligently to maintain safe and efficient operations, the University innovated in ways that will continue to be part of the Richmond experience after the pandemic. 

Mathematics professor Della Dumbaugh, for example, customized a classic teaching strategy to improve virtual instruction. She decided to revisit oral exams as a teaching technique.

“I found updating oral exams for the 21st-century virtual classroom helped students improve their communication, conquer anxiety, solve problems quickly, and think creatively,” she said. “It also gave students an opportunity to articulate layers of sophisticated thinking in an organized fashion, a skill they can take with them to any workplace.”

Dumbaugh called the results a “huge success,” in building relationships with students in a virtual setting. She’s now incorporating oral quizzes into her in-person instruction as well.

I may not like the pandemic, but I am grateful it has given rise to moments that have fostered fresh and new ways of thinking about ways to achieve connection and meaning,
headshot of Monti Datta
Monti Datta

Associate Professor of Political Science

Maintaining meaningful relationships and connections was the inspiration for political science professor Monti Datta when it came to finding new ways to collaborate virtually.

In January, he co-hosted an online webinar with a colleague at VCU, where the two shared tips on how to use meditation and mindfulness to alleviate pandemic stresses with nearly 100 people from around the Greater Richmond area. A week later, he and Bob Spires, an education professor in the School of Professional & Continuing Studies, led a webinar on human trafficking where the two were able to connect with a global network of social justice activists.

“We were all able to do this from the convenience of our smart phones and computers and to have a moment of connection that, prior to the pandemic, would have required orchestrating cumbersome logistics like finding and booking a venue, driving to the location, and providing parking to participants,” Datta said. 

“I may not like the pandemic, but I am grateful it has given rise to moments that have fostered fresh and new ways of thinking about ways to achieve connection and meaning,” Datta said.  

The implementation of the Grubhub mobile pickup app and kiosk ordering systems in campus dining locations has been integral in supporting physical distancing, and the app is here to stay, said Terry Baker, executive director of Dining Services.

With more than 4,300 users now using Grubhub, and more than 80 percent of all orders placed through the app, mobile ordering food on campus has been a hit with the community, and Baker sees long-term benefits.

“In addition to eliminating long lines and reducing wait times at registers around campus, this technology has also helped eliminate order and cashier errors,” said Baker. 

University Recreation also transformed operations with a mobile app. Rather than using biometric hand scanners and turnstiles system that once welcomed those working out at the Weinstein Center, any student, faculty, or staff member can now download the FusionGo app on their phone, enter their UR credentials, and scan a barcode to gain access to both the Weinstein Center and the new Well-Being Center.

For University Museums, COVID-19 was the nudge the team needed to turn a wish list into reality.

“In many ways, the pandemic has given us that push to think out of the box,” said Heather Campbell, curator of museum programming. “We have expanded our online resources, which is something that we’ve been wanting to do for some time.”

Museums now offers 360-degree virtual tours of select exhibitions on campus. They’ve paired the tours with virtual programming, where museum staff lead the audience through the exhibit, stopping and leading discussions about specific artwork.

“This is something that we will continue not only with our new exhibitions but our permanent displays at the Lora Robins Gallery as well,” Campbell said. “It allows us to accommodate a broader audience, be a resource for educators and the community, and book speakers and artists who are unable to join us on campus.”