Professors shift to online classes in wake of the coronavirus outbreak

Cera Hansen / The Daily Gamecock

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, USC extended spring break one week and moved classes online for the remainder of the semester, giving professors one week to restructure their courses into an online format.

In addition to technological limitations, professors also have to account for student concerns as they shift off-campus, including unreliable or nonexistent Wi-Fi access, hands-on courses and unique personal responsibilities.

Some professors already have experience teaching online, such as School of Library and Information Science professor Karen Gavigan, who said the weeklong extension was a good idea.

“It’ll give them a week to create, you know, the first couple [lessons], and then of course, as it goes on, they'll have that expertise to develop the course for the next week,” Gavigan said.

Through this process, faculty have shared resources with each other to aid in the switch to virtual learning. Gavigan said she has seen this within the College of Information and Communications, where School of Library and Information Science faculty, who are more versed in online courses, are sharing resources with journalism school faculty.

“Our faculty is helping their faculty, which I think is a great alignment, a great collaboration, between the two schools,” Gavigan said.

USC’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) is offering consultations and virtual training sessions to help faculty who are less experienced with online instruction begin to shift into a form of online teaching.

Breanne Grace, an assistant professor at the College of Social Work, said the CTE resources, despite being widely circulated, will be of differing use to professors depending on how much prior experience they have with teaching online.

“I don't know if everybody's taking advantage of those resources," Grace said. "One of the things that is becoming apparent is that, you know, not everybody uses the technology resources that are available during the normal semesters, and so faculty who use those technologies during the regular semester are, perhaps, more comfortable,” Grace said.

USC is not requiring professors to adhere to specific platforms, leading some to take creative approaches to teaching. Students could see their classes on Facebook Live, YouTube, Zoom, Blackboard, Skype and other streaming platforms.

Even with these resources, some professors are still struggling to reformat their courses.

“A lot of other professors are having some difficulties with it, they don’t have the software or the training or the equipment,” journalism professor Shannon Bowen said. “They don’t necessarily know how to teach online, so there’s almost a section of panic among the faculty.”

Many students are concerned about how hands-on classes such as labs will transfer online. Loren Knapp, associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, said labs could be conducted using web-based demonstrations, 3-D animations or point-and-click modules, but developing them could be difficult. 

“Taking a week or two to try and develop classes that are going to take a face-to-face situation and put it online is a big commitment to try and do,” Knapp said. “We, like everyone else, try to do the best we can in order to make sure this is not a lost semester for our students.”

Some students might not have the resources or environment to allow them to take part in online classes effectively. These “extenuating circumstances,” Grace said, can affect faculty, professors and students who now have to take online classes.

“Students might be looking after younger siblings, for instance, or they might live in rural areas where they don't have very fast internet or even, you know, no internet; like, you can't even get it where they live,” Grace said. 

Several professors are choosing to make their courses asynchronous in order to relieve these concerns. Asynchronous means students can complete assignments on their own time throughout the week or day, as opposed to having to set aside time to attend a live class.

With the recent closure of South Carolina public schools, internships for students in the College of Education are also on hold. The college is working with the South Carolina Department of Education to ensure graduation and certification are not delayed for education students.

Jon Pedersen, dean of the College of Education, said students have already had significant experience working in classrooms with public school teachers and students.

“It would be quite a different story if this was Jan. 15, let's say, versus March 15,” Pedersen said. "We feel pretty confident that the experiences that they've had at this point, you know, are quality."

Despite the challenges, professors are committed to adapting their courses around the evolving COVID-19 outbreak.

“Everyone seems to be ready and willing to do the work that it takes to make this come off so that we can be successful,” Knapp said. “Everyone wants this to succeed and understands just what the gravity of the situation is.”

Update: The lede of this article was updated to reflect the university's decision to continue online instruction for the rest of the semester.


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