Among brightly colored dress shirts, winter coats, and sweaters stuffed high up on shelves, Marianne Paiva sits barefoot and “crisscross applesauce,” as her 9-year-old calls it, on thick carpet in her bedroom closet. A MacBook rests on the floor in front of her as she leans in to the gooseneck microphone attached to the computer.

Since the shelter-in-place order was implemented in March, the sociology professor has found unorthodox and innovative ways to connect with the students in her courses.

In the first days of the order, she set up a makeshift office in her bedroom furnished with a hand-me-down sewing table acting as her desk and a cushioned folding chair as her office chair. Paiva removed typical bedroom clutter from the area in front of her computer camera and placed a two-foot-tall Darth Vader action figure behind her chair, where her Zoom colleagues admire Vader’s outstretched arm.

“He’s a very quiet, respectful coworker,” Paiva said with a laugh. 

But the bedroom office didn’t quite meet her need to quickly deliver new content to five classes each week. Paiva, who has been teaching hybrid courses from the studio classrooms in Meriam Library for several years, found the quality of her home office computer camera and the interruptions of home life incompatible with delivering live or recorded video lectures while maintaining the quality she was used to in the studios.

A view from near the ceiling looks down at Marianne Paiva in a closet filled with clothes.
With fabric lining the walls and a carpeted floor, the closet offered ideal acoustics for recording audio.

Given her extensive history teaching in online and hybrid models, and with 100 percent of her course content managed in Blackboard Learn even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Paiva decided to play with her courses and venture into new territory to deliver lectures in the course “Women, Work, and Family” for the final weeks of the spring 2020 semester. 

“After the campus closure, I had a lot of time to walk and listen to podcasts, something I hadn’t really done before,” Paiva explained. “I quickly realized I looked forward to going for a walk just so I could listen to new podcasts. I wondered if I could get my students into that mental space if I created a podcast as well.”

Before long, Paiva was teaching herself how to podcast through online tutorials and recorded her first podcast in the room with the best acoustics: her bedroom closet. 

“I love it, and my students reported that they loved it. Podcasts have a lot of positive aspects including the ability to be more accessible to people who don’t have a computer; they are more mobile, take less broadband and time to download to a device than a video lecture, and can be paused, rewound, fast forwarded,” she said. “I uploaded all my podcasts to Blackboard and created transcripts so my students could read along while they listened or read the transcript only if that works better for them. The coolest thing was that if someone subscribed to the podcast, they were automatically notified of the new episode and wouldn’t miss any lecture.” 

Marianne Paiva's cat stands at the doorway of her closet, as she sits on the floor behind it.
Paiva’s “office assistant” often joins her in the cozy closet during recording sessions.

As she prepares to start the fall semester, podcasts won’t take the place for all of Paiva’s lectures, but she sees them as a way to enhance the classroom and online experience, all from the comfort and perfect acoustics of her bedroom closet. 

Associate Dean Ryan Patten said the University, the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, and the Department of Sociology are all lucky to have an academic leader like Paiva. 

“Marianne’s dedication to her students and her craft is impressive and her efforts are a demonstration of how Chico State continues to set itself apart from other institutions of higher education,” Patten said. “She found an opportunity created by the COVID-19 disruption to innovate. The imagination and ingenuity displayed in the creation of her podcasts are truly an inspiration to her colleagues on campus.”

This story first appeared in Vanguard, the newsletter for the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences.