During COVID-19 pandemic, hospitality students and faculty adapt, learn 'to always be prepared'

| By

During COVID-19 pandemic, hospitality students and faculty adapt, learn 'to always be prepared'

-By Ivonne Yee-Amor

Five cameras are focused on Professor John Noble Masi's cutting board while he teaches his lesson for Meat Cookery Week.

Students who were supposed to get instructions on taking part in the Ultra Music Festival, instead discuss insurance and event postponement with their mega events management professor.

For years, instructors have been giving and students have been taking courses online at FIU's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. It gives students the flexibility to learn at their own pace. But now, with COVID-19 concerns and mandatory university-wide remote learning in place, professors with hands-on or experiential learning classes are adapting to the pandemic.

"I've done hundreds of live cooking demonstrations, but video instruction is new to me," said Masi, who teaches introductory and advanced food production management courses and runs FIU Bistro, the student-run restaurant at the Chaplin School.

The restaurant, which normally opens Thursday nights on the Biscayne Bay Campus, is closed because of the virus and now, Masi is recording his classes in the school's demonstration kitchen. A video director in a nearby room controls the cameras and records the lesson, then the video tutorials are uploaded for students to download and view.

Two hundred and fifty undergraduate and graduate level courses are now being taught online at the Chaplin School. Dale Gomez, an instructor and director of IT and adaptive learning, has been moving courses online for the last 10 years, so when the decision was made to implement remote learning, the transition was seamless.

"We may not have had the coronavirus in mind when we set up the framework for all of our courses to be available online years ago, but we knew it was a necessary step and are now thankful we did it," Gomez said. "We are working with our professors to make sure their lessons are engaging and effective," he added.

Chaplin School, along with university officials, have been ahead of the virus for months. In January, FIU  brought home study abroad students and faculty who were at the FIU TIanjin  (FIU-TUC) Campus in Tianjin, China. About 1,000 FIU students, who are in the program there, have been taking courses online since Feb. 3 without any issues, since that campus has been closed since then.

"Many of our hospitality courses are more visual and hands-on then other schools within the university," said Michael Cheng, dean of the Chaplin School.

"As hospitality leaders and event planners who are used to rapidly changing environments, we have built-in redundancies and contingencies in place, so the move to remote learning has been a smooth one," Cheng said.

First semester graduate student Cindy Zahnd was supposed to undergo training with Ultra Music Festival organizers this week to help at the event scheduled for March 21 and 22. But since announcing the postponement, she and her class of 40-plus students are learning about public health and safety and the legal ramifications and liabilities of event management, focusing especially on a pandemic.

"As a student studying mega and large event management, I think that the current situation brings attention to legal liabilities in contracts," Zahnd said. "This is definitely a learning experience for me, even though my plan of gaining experience from Ultra and several planned events is not going to happen," she said.

There are no cases of the coronavirus reported at FIU, but remote instruction is taking place through at least Saturday, April 4, to try to avoid community contact and spread. Offices and libraries are open; faculty are conducting office hours via email, phone and Zoom conference calls or remote meetings; and students can remain in their dorms if they cannot travel home.

Students like Zahnd, whose family is in Switzerland, are staying calm, informed and learning their lessons via computer.

"Public health and safety come first, but the biggest lesson in all this for me seems to be, to always be prepared for anything and expect the unexpected," she concluded.

As for Masi, his meat week lesson is ready to be posted; students will have to make a beef fajita dish for themselves or their family as an assignment. In the meantime, he's preparing for what's up next on the syllabus: fish and shellfish week.

Find the latest FIU information about the coronavirus on the university's resource page .