The unsung heroes of the quick shift to remote classes were our professors, who had to redesign their courses on the fly and be the support system the student body needed.
Professors had to change their lesson plans with little notice or instruction from the university and still instruct their classes as the world collapsed around us. As many people took time off to spend time with family, given the impending lockdown, professors went to work.
“It was really stressful, really chaotic,” David Reisman, a biological sciences professor and director of the graduate studies program, said.
Reisman, who has 30 years of teaching experience, said he didn't know Blackboard Collaborate existed.
"I didn't think I was gonna be able to use it, it was kind of overwhelming. And we had to kind of move pretty quickly," Reisman said.
Jason Porter, a visual communications instructor, said the faculty’s main concern was “not so much, 'How do we teach the students? How do we keep them on their stuff?' It was, 'How do we get them the resources they [need] to actually get their stuff done?'”
Faculty's first priority was to ensure students would be able to perform their duties from home, so the professor’s instruction would still prove useful in this new classroom setting.
“We were having conversations about like, 'What if this person lives in the middle of nowhere and doesn't have internet access? What if their computer is, a you know, a terrible computer that can't handle the video editor, and they’re in the middle of editing their video final?'” Porter said.
Not only did professors create an online curriculum over the summer, some included special touches of humor and creativity to enliven the students' spirits in a time of extraordinary stress. Porter talked about putting on a Halloween costume in the middle of June for a lecture that students would have to watch around Halloween. He said he remembers thinking, "Well, I hope this gets a laugh in October.”
Professors had to figure out new ways to get information to students on their own, often figuring out the software as they went. Reisman discovered that posting lectures on YouTube not only gave students the ability to easily access large lecture files, but also allowed them to go back and watch multiple times when necessary.
“They didn't have to download anything. You can just click on it and watch it. And then — and then people were also asking for more because, you know, it's hard without being able to ask questions,” Reisman said.
Tena Crews, a professor in the sport and entertainment management department, taught online classes long before the pandemic made it necessary for the university to switch to virtual learning.
Crews said she has become a resource for other professors, who would seek her out for advice on handling online instruction.
“They're just people who know me across campus, and they'll call and go, 'Oh my gosh, I'm struggling with, you know, students aren't being actively engaged in a discussion board,' or 'Students have questions all the time,' or, 'My email has blown up," Crews said. "You know, we just hash it out.”
Professors have had to put aside their home lives to have an open line of communication with students to account for the lack of more clarifying instruction that is common in the classroom.
“I told my students, I was like, 'Hey, I'm going to be available for you guys a lot," Porter said. "And I'm going to be available to, you know, shoot you back a message on Slack on a Saturday afternoon, if you want. Which many students do take advantage of.”
Crews said she encouraged teachers to take what they have learned in this time of online leaning and apply it to in-person classes.
“They really have to integrate the technology that they use online into their classroom," Crews said.
Yes, the student body did have to learn in an entirely new way this year, and it has been tough; but we had our professors to lead us through an uncertain year, not only in academics, but also as our mentors. If professors had not stepped up to the plate without question, this year would have been impossible.
Take a minute to think about your professors who went the extra mile while in quarantine, while caring for their children or just trying to stay healthy themselves. They deserve our thanks.