For many professors and lecturers, the transition from in-person to remote teaching can be a daunting task in what is quickly becoming a new normal in the world of education.
The University of New Hampshire (UNH) is preparing to continue all classes remotely after Thanksgiving break. While most students quickly adapted to the new style of learning last semester, some of the faculty members were struggling due to their inexperience with technology. Using their preparation from the summer, faculty members are working hard to ensure success in online learning for them and their students for the remainder of this semester. However, a semester during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has not proven to be easy.
“This is my worst semester, ever,” said senior lecturer of finance Caitlin DeSoye.
DeSoye struggled at the end of last semester when classes went fully remote because of the high amount of hands-on teaching that is required for her classes. “My real estate class specifically, I have a ton of guest speakers that are involved in the class and they all had to be cancelled,” she explained.
For DeSoye, it was the mixture of teaching both in-person and online classes that was tough for her. “I personally do not think that you can be effective doing both at the same time,” she said.
However, planning is key to ensure that DeSoye’s classes run efficiently this semester and she claimed that was one of her biggest accomplishments. This planning included DeSoye modifying her typical syllabus to allow her to slowly host guest speakers later on in the semester as they gear up to go remote.
Scott Berube, a principal lecturer in the accounting and finance department at UNH said that his biggest obstacle last spring was “figuring out the best delivery model” for his students. He added, “The technology being used was strained by the dramatic increase in demand, which added to the overall challenge.”
Berube prefers teaching classes that are in-person because it allows him to create more engagement between himself and his students. However, with the COVID-19 safety protocols implemented on-campus this semester, it has been difficult for him to do so. “It is extremely difficult to read the room when everyone in it has masks on. It is also a challenge to engage in remote classes when many of my students have their video off and [there] are little black boxes on my screen,” he explained.
When asked about his preparation on teaching remotely this semester, Berube explained that he spent the summer developing online content for all of his classes. “My colleagues and I have been trying to figure out better ways to engage students in these online classes,” he said. One of their efforts is by awarding bonus points for live participation during Zoom classes, something that Berube has always incorporated into his in-person classes in past semesters.
Berube sees the “new normal” as a challenge to “dynamically deliver the content” of his classes “whether in-person or online” more than an obstacle. With all of the resources such as prerecorded Zoom lectures and additional videos covering practice problems, Berube stresses the importance of self-motivation from students in order for them to be successful in his classes.
Keeping all communications clear and concise was lecturer Scott Lemos’ way of overcoming the obstacle last semester. “Apart from revising notes and assignments, short and frequent emails and/or audio messages helped keep my courses on track,” he said.
Having to teach all of his classes in the hybrid method (in-person and online) this semester, Lemos has been diligent in making sure that his students are getting the same learning experience whether it is in-person or online by making his students as active as possible. “My classes took on much more of an ‘active learning’ style, in which I had students reviewing notes outside of class and then working on problems, assignments or activities with me in class,” he explained.
Though Lemos prefers teaching classes that are in-person, he said, “With current technology, I feel it’s not possible to truly mimic an in-person experience online.” Lemos does not believe in the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to teaching and has catered his in-person, online and hybrid classes “to ensure students of all learning-types have a chance to showcase their progression.”
But for Sean Moore, a professor in the English department, it was his inexperience with teleconferencing tools that made it difficult for him to have a smooth transition last spring. “I had already always used the Discussion Board function on Canvas for students to moderate our daily readings, so on short notice I simply expanded that to include chats during our normal class times,” he said.
Moore had to overcome his inexperience in technology this summer, which he said felt rewarding, as all of his classes are being taught online. “The biggest accomplishment was translating my usual writing-intensive teaching style into Zoom, complete with breakout sessions to workshop papers. I found that students adapted to this quite easily, and their discussions and papers have so far reflected that they are learning much in classes,” he said.
For his field of teaching, Moore clarifies that since most of the students’ workload for his classes revolves around reading, analyzing and understanding, it could be done either in-person or online, but Moore prefers to teach classes that are in-person. “With in-person teaching, you get the effective element in communication, which can consist of body language, hand gestures, smiles, nods and so forth, which helps convey the teacher’s point in ways that just the word cannot,” he explained.
Moore’s preparation to teach remotely this semester was simple, which is to be an online professor and fully utilizes digital tools like Canvas and Zoom. “Online teaching is not mysterious, and it is in fact easier for the teacher than real-time teaching,” he said.
Photo Courtesy of the University of New Hampshire