The transition from in-person instruction to online classes has been a stressor not only for students across the country but for professors and administration as well. Worse, rather than a smooth adjustment, students and professors alike have been yanked in opposite directions as JMU switched from in-person to online learning and back again.
The repeatedly disorganized nature of this semester has sprouted worry into the minds of many students, making them wonder what classes may look like in the spring. Although receiving a college education online is unideal for many, the constant pressures of switching back and forth between in-person and online instruction has taken its toll on students and faculty. Students have lost motivation, seen the layout of their classes flipped upside down and have become more dependent on technology than ever before.
Unfortunately, these consequences haven’t solely affected students. They’ve also hurt the professors who must cater to these challenges on the fly.
Learning how to use video applications such as Zoom and WebEx was only the start of a difficult transition to come. Luckily for students, adapting to new technology doesn’t stray too far from the norm. But, for professors who’ve perfected their teaching environment and style, creating a whole new virtual classroom has proven to be quite complicated.
As if creating a whole new lesson plan and teaching virtual setup isn’t enough, in many classes, students refuse to turn on their cameras and mics, leaving professors to essentially talk to a blank screen. Knowing that students are comprehending the class material is pivotal in creating an effective curriculum, so being unable to receive feedback as they usually would when looking through the classroom has become detrimental for both students and faculty.
Zoom has also presented issues for time-intensive courses like labs. “Because of classroom size limits, students are also spending a lot less time 'in class' — or synchronous time,” Dr. Liz Doyle, a biology professor, states. “Lab students spend 1/2 the usual scheduled time being synchronous, and lecture students only spend 1/3 of the scheduled time synchronously. So they have to do a lot more outside of class or lab — and I think that gets forgotten.”
Beyond not having the usual time accommodations and interpersonal connection that a classroom fosters, professors now have to strategize how to best communicate the intricacies of their fields through remote learning. From computer science to graphic design to biology labs, professors have had to become creative in their uses of an online classroom, especially for courses that are most easily taught hands-on.
“For lab, it's been really hard to try to have a meaningful experience without handling the lab equipment, or doing the experiments,” Doyle said. “I can demonstrate on video and describe a technique like pipetting all I want, but until you do it yourself, it doesn't make much sense. You need practice to develop muscle memory.”
For many professors, the skills that are needed to succeed in their fields are not being adequately translated to an online environment.
Some professors have even given the option of both an online and in-person classroom experience for their students, a courtesy that takes a huge amount of time to accommodate. Other professors have had to take a step back from glitchy synchronous lectures to simply posting documents on Canvas and assigning quizzes or tests. Beyond the extra time and effort they must put into formatting their course work, many professors have also had to invest in new software in order for their students to complete assignments that were once done in campus computer labs remotely.
Throughout this semester’s confusing decisions, professors are certainly being challenged just as much as students, if not even more. These faculty members have had to transform their curriculum to cater to students’ needs, learn new technologies, set up new spaces to teach from and conquer the multiple unexpected detours presented by the administration. Dr. Doyle explains, “Science is unfortunately getting a bum rap in the public eye, and I always try to convince students otherwise. I don't want to miss the mark this semester and I am afraid I am.” It’s clear that professors are just as concerned about the long-term effects of online instruction as students are.
Although students have clearly not had great experiences this semester, one must remember that instructors have also had to overcome these challenges while being expected to produce a seamless online classroom in a fraction of time. The efforts that’ve been made to better the situation, by both students and faculty, are admirable, especially in a landscape as unpredictable as a pandemic.
Liz Riccio is a sophomore Psychology and Media arts and design double major. Contact Liz at email@example.com.