Instructor Keeps Students Engaged Virtually with Playful Imagination

Published: 04/14/2020

Due to precautionary measures related to COVID-19, St. Charles Community College decided to move all classes into the virtual space. When biology professor Dr. Monica Hall-Woods heard the news, she understood, but she also realized something else.

“The antibiotic research my students were doing in my biology class would have to stop,” she said. “The insect DNA project and scheduled field trips would have to come to a halt.”

She was worried about losing the one thing she loved most about her classroom – a sense of community.

So she decided to do something about it.

“I wanted to keep my students engaged and connected,” Hall-Woods explained, “so I decided to use virtual backgrounds during online class time.”

Virtual backgrounds led to another idea. Enter Guy Fieri.


“I realized I could theme each week with costumes,” she said. “So I dug out a bunch of Halloween costumes and found a background to match. My latest endeavor was Guy Fieri.”

Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games and a unicorn with rainbows have also been in the mix.

Hall-Woods tries to keep her students guessing. She’s a very big Harry Potter fan, and while students are fully expecting to see the theme show up by the end of the semester, she wants to remain unpredictable.

It’s a small gesture to bring a little joy into her students’ lives, but it’s paying off big. She’s seen a great response in attendance during her weekly sessions.

“It’s not required, but a lot of them are showing up,” Hall-Woods explained. “I ask them about their situations, what I can help with, answer questions about class, advise them about their degrees – whatever they need.”

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