These days, when Farryl Bertmann sits down to teach, she is greeted by video messages from her students recorded from their respective locations. As she opens them, one by one, she finds herself in the midst of a robust discussion on food insecurity in the age of COVID-19.

This is also the experience being shared by each of her students since their community nutrition course transitioned online last month. Bertmann, a lecturer in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, is using Flipgrid, an online platform that enables students to reflect and comment on issues being discussed in class. Instead of sitting around a classroom, students see a grid of each classmate's face on their screen, which they can click on to see and hear their response to the week’s discussion topic. To engage, they simply record their own video message in reply and add it to the grid.

“The platform has enabled continued discussion in an asynchronous way, while also still being able to connect with each other on a personal level,” says Bertmann, whose students are spread throughout the country, and the world.

For students studying community nutrition, the coronavirus pandemic has become a living case study to understand complex topics like food insecurity and the epidemiology of disease. Bertmann has adapted the course to center discussions around how these issues are being impacted in real-time. Her students have said the course has helped them to better understand the spread of the coronavirus and the ripple effect it’s having through the food system and economy.

Responding to a Flipgrid discussion prompt on how COVID-19 will impact food security in the United States, junior Johannah Gaitings-Harrod responded, “I think the COVID-19 outbreak is going to dramatically increase the amount of food insecure households we have in America. There are also so many more families that might be affected by healthcare costs, so that takes away from the disposable income they could spend on food before.”

The dietetics, nutrition and food sciences major also pointed out the challenges with getting food to kids and families in more rural areas like in her hometown of Corinth, Maine, where she’s been volunteering at a food distribution site.

Bertmann learned of the Flipgrid platform through UVM’s Center for Teaching and Learning, which has been assisting faculty with the rapid transition of moving all courses online. “CTL has been a huge resource,” says Bertmann. “In a university where so much of the learning comes from hands-on coursework and instruction, we’re quickly adapting and flexing our skills, while also staying true to our core values.”


Rachel Leslie