Riza Brown: When Your Classroom Is a Restaurant

When Riza Brown, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, found out she had just one week to convert her four classes into online courses, she felt she was suddenly inside a terrible circus.

It “was akin to juggling while a bomb ticked in the background,” she said. “That’s a little dramatic, but I feel entitled to being a little dramatic right now.”

For Brown, a culinary arts professor, one of her classes posed a special challenge. This spring she was teaching Hospitality, a course that uses Lucy’s, an on-campus restaurant, as a real-world lab. The class works to master recipes and cooking techniques of a high-end menu that rotates four times a year. Students collaborate to each come up with a unique dish, create the semester’s menu and serve customers during their operating hours.

Doing all of that remotely wasn’t possible, Brown said, and she was forced to cancel the class.

“There is no substitute for real guests with real problems and a real sense of urgency,” she said. Students will have to retake the course next semester.

As for her other three courses, Quantity Purchasing, Cost Control, and Hospitality Concept and Design, Brown is using VoiceThread to deliver lectures and Prezi to create the slides. Plus, she created a student lounge forum on Blackboard as a space for students to talk about things that are not necessarily related to the class.

Brown said she has “become quite good at teasing out the silver linings in every situation.”

“My sense of empathy has grown exponentially,” she said. “I view this as an opportunity not only to continue teaching students the subjects they signed up for but to teach them about responding in unprecedented situations like this.”

—Caleigh Jensen

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