Now several weeks into online instruction, professors are beginning to get a feel for how the semester might play out. The transition has presented different challenges for each professor, but all have felt the impact in some way.
College of Education associate professor Christian Anderson likened the shift to packing for travel. Depending on how one is traveling, they are going to prepare differently, just like how a professor prepares differently whether they teach online or in person.
“When you design a course to be online, you design it with certain methods in mind and certain interactions in mind, and when you design a face-to-face class, you do the same thing. But then switching halfway through from one to the other is more difficult than starting online or, you know, in keeping online or starting face-to-face and keeping it face-to-face,” Anderson said.
For linguistics professor Stanley Dubinsky, the lack of person-to-person contact makes online teaching even more challenging.
“Everything we had, all the personal connections, are sort of, they’re frayed, they’re broken up in some sense, and we’re doing the best we can through whatever devices we can,” Dubinsky said. “Through apps like Zoom, or Collaborate, or whatever, we’re doing the best we can to sort of keep those threads intact so that hopefully, you know, we can come back and reestablish the community that we had before we all had to go elsewhere.”
Dubinsky is teaching synchronously, where he hosts live lectures for his students to participate in and offers one-on-one screen time with if they have questions. The “key,” he said, is to bring students together in the same room or, in this case, video call.
When thinking about the effectiveness of online classes, sports and entertainment management associate professor Todd Koesters thought of it as if his students were customers getting a product, his teaching, and he was the seller.
“It doesn't matter if I'm satisfied, it’s are the students satisfied? Are they still getting out of the class what they expected to get out of the class, and I've asked my students how they're handling it, and they seem to have not missed a step," Koesters said. "You know, because of the extension of spring break by a week, I did have to reduce material, and I spent quite a bit of time going through and pulling out the less important content, making sure that the bigger more important topics were covered."
Koesters also gives live lectures and recognizes that since students are at home, other people or issues may be present when taking part in live classes. Because of this, Koesters doesn’t require anyone to have their camera on and prefers for microphones to be muted during class unless speaking.
“I prefer people actually mute their microphones because there's lots of activity going on," Koesters said. "You know, I'm in a house, I've got my wife here, my daughter, my daughter's roommate’s with us, and they're trying to do their classes at the same time too, and so, and I understand there's lots of background noises. People have dogs and brothers and sisters."
Sheryl Wiskur, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, has a similar situation in which she must care for three children while also teaching from home. Though she said teaching is not necessarily harder, every other aspect of the job is.
"Taking care of the emails or writing the tests or writing the quizzes, just because I do have three children, and they are all trying to do their homework, and this is so new for them, and they have a lot of questions, and they need help," Wiskur said.
For Wiskur, the shift to online classes was easier than expected despite her not being “the most technically advanced person in the world.” A trickier shift, though, has been engagement via online platforms.
Wiskur said encouraging her students to come to a synchronous class every week would help to establish a sense of routine and therefore encourage engagement. She also draws out her lectures using OneNote in order to avoid PowerPoints.
In an effort to keep his students engaged online, Dubinsky uses humor to foster a sense of unity between his students. He regularly shares memes and entertaining articles, and he props a stuffed animal somewhere in the background of his camera during each class.
“A lot of this is keeping people engaged. I want people to not think that they’re all alone out there, wherever they are in Charlotte, or New Jersey, or Tennessee, or [whatever] town they come from,” Dubinsky said. “If we can’t do better than that, then we’re just an online university. And I don’t really wanna be part of an online university,” Dubinsky said.
For Koesters, it was his students who would ultimately dictate how he taught his classes. He asked his students about their online capabilities, wanting to make sure they were able to partake in class and had the tools, such as a laptop or internet connection. He said that luckily for him, they were all able to partake.
— Nick Sullivan contributed to the reporting of this article.