Recently, in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, Albion College transitioned to online classes. The sudden change gave professors a week to change their classes to fit an online format. Going online includes figuring out how to do lectures, give exams, assign papers and assignments and meet with students.
Finding Their Methods
Professors conducted trial-and-error testing fairly quickly after learning about the switch in order to find what is the right method to use when meeting with their students virtually.
Chemistry professor Dr. Cliff Harris learned that Facebook Live wasn’t the best method for his classes after testing it out. Shortly after, he transitioned to using Google Meets with his students.
Transitioning to his smaller class, psychology professor Dr. Holger Elischenberger was able to continue teaching course material with his classes over Google Meets. With his larger classes, Elischenberger decided it would be best to record the lecture and have the class meet for questions at the usual meeting time over Google Meets.
“There was a bit more trial-and-error with the larger classes because I didn’t simply move class meetings online,” said Elischberger. “But all-in-all, there weren’t any huge differences regarding how smoothly or not the transition’s been.”
Some professors, like education professor Dr. Suellyn Henke, are still finding out the method that fits their classes best. When it comes to online classes, there isn’t a one size fits all solution.
Switching gears mid-semester is not an easy task. There are bound to be a few bumps in the road.
“I tried to approach the announcement that we would be transitioning to online instruction with an open mind,” said Henke. “It is important to stay flexible as an educator. My main concern has been for the students and their adjustment to so many big changes.”
Harris said that organic chemistry was already difficult before the technology aspect was added to the course. The virtual aspect of the class has now made things increasingly more difficult.
“In the sciences, we of course also had to figure out labs. These are impossible to convert quickly in any meaningful way,” said Harris.
Some classes, like music ensembles, need to be able to meet in person, online doesn’t cut it. Sound quality over online is very poor and you can’t have the same effect of blending as an ensemble online.
“Because wind ensemble, or any performance-based class, is dependent on group interaction in a sort of feedback loop there is simply no way to recreate that experience online in real-time,” said music department chair Dr. Samuel MacIlhagga.
Some professors have never taught remotely before, so this is a first for them. That factor brings challenges of its own.
“The advancements in technology have made this transition a lot easier than if this would have happened ten years ago,” said psychology professor Dr. W. Jefferey Wilson.
How Professors Feel About The Switch
It’s not surprising that a majority of professors aren’t fans of the transition to online classes, but they’re making do with what has been handed to them.
Harris said that although the transition is going better than he expected, he still dislikes the process of switching to online learning.
Although the situation is far from ideal, professors do see the necessity of it.
“Despite my concerns over how easy or difficult it would be to finish out the semester online, I was very relieved about the decision to do so,” said Elischberger. “It was clear even at that point that social distancing was needed to slow the spread of infection.”
Other professors second the sentiment Elischberger expressed toward the situation, citing approval for the college’s decision despite the difficulty it has caused for students and professors alike.
“I am pleased that the college is more concerned with the well-being of its people than with trying to keep the doors open at all costs,” said MacIlhagga.
What Professors Miss
“I think it’s going reasonably well, but the time spent in direct interaction with students in the classroom and lab is the thing I enjoy the most about my profession,” said Elischberger.
Part of being a professor is having that interaction with students, and to some, that’s the most enjoyable part of the profession. Henke, for example, said she misses the interactions with her students, and she is trying her best to maintain regular contact with all of her students.
“ I chose this career because I enjoy working directly with the bright, hard-working, ambitious students that Albion College attracts,” said Harris.
Face-to-face interaction is a very important part of teaching to most professors. They have adapted their teaching style to have instant feedback from students.
“I think the best thing to come out of this difficult situation is that we are seeing first-hand the value and importance of face to face teaching and learning,” said McIlhagga.
Overall, professors just want this to all clear up so they can get back to their normal routine.
“Can’t wait to get this virus handled and get back to my classroom and my students,” said Henke.