Not only has the coronavirus (COVID-19) affected bars, restaurants and small businesses but has had a massive impact as well on schooling across the country. A substantial number of schools have switched to fully remote learning or to alternating schedules for students.
The transition from in-person to remote learning was not always smooth, with both students and professors experiencing some difficulties adjusting. Students and professors have been used to in-person learning for their whole lives, but remote learning might be the future for schools and universities across the country.
For almost a year now, much of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) has switched to remote learning because of COVID-19. The first COVID-19 cases appeared on campus in March of 2020, which led to many others contracting the virus. As a precautionary safety method, UNH decided to shut down the campus and switch to remote learning for the rest of the 2020 spring semester.
“In-person delivery is way more energizing and you can capture the attention of the class way more easily,” said Professor Akdeniz Talay, associate professor of marketing at Paul College of Business and Economics (Paul). “It almost feels like a workout for me after each in-person class since I am very enthusiastic about what I teach. The online environment is inherently not as dynamic. Lifting up the focus, enthusiasm, and the overall spirits of students on the screen can be more challenging.”
Professor Sajay Arthanat, professor of occupational therapy in the College of Health and Human Services, agreed with Talay and said, “Initially I felt a bit challenged teaching larger classes of more than 30 students, especially to ensure consistent student engagement across the classroom.”
Talay said remote learning has a decreased level of activity and diversity tools that she can utilize compared to in-person classes. Another area to blame for the difficulty of remote learning is the “increased amount of distraction around the students,” said Talay.
“There have been lots of changes. I’m tempted to say that everything had changed,” said Kevin Healey, professor of communication in the College of Liberal Arts (COLA). He said he had to sacrifice methods that only worked in face-to-face settings, such as hands-on and art-based activities.
However, Healey also found that remote learning has its advantages as well. He mentioned that “with a good camera, I can get right up into people’s faces. I’m no longer separated in the way that I am when I’m standing in a room with 40 students. In a lecture room, I’m always at least 20 feet from someone. But in a Zoom room, I can feel like I’m face-to-face with everyone. So, there’s a paradox with Zoom teaching: we are distant physically, and yet the cameras can create a more intimate experience.”
Arthanat found similar advantages in his online classrooms as well: “Later on, I realized that online teaching has its advantages for large classes in that it provides equal access and flexibility for all students to engage with the instructor.” Arthanat utilizes the chat box in Zoom to get feedback, where that is not available in an in-person class setting.
Healey also noticed that students are more likely to talk to each other in breakout rooms rather than in small groups during in-person classes. “Breakout rooms also generate a lot more conversation, I’ve found. Students feel more comfortable talking in small groups without my direct supervision,” Healey said.
All these UNH professors received training and attended workshops on campus for remote learning. Talay mentioned that the workshops were a great refresher that elevated their skills. While Healey only attended a couple of workshops and focused on learning more about remote learning on his own terms.
These UNH professors have certainly had difficulties switching to remote learning, however, Healey and Arthanat have tried to make the best out of it. They both listed many advantages remote learning offers that in-person classes cannot offer. In the future when and if public safety allows schools to return to in-person classes, professors and teachers around the country can implement more and more remote learning advantages to in-person classes and vice versa.
Photo courtesy of UNH Today.