Zoom. Blackboard. Skype. Box. Panopto. Google Drive.
As the University of Richmond transitions to online learning for the remainder of the spring semester, professors across departments grapple with how to best educate students through virtual platforms.
“It’s such a disruption to what we normally do that it is pretty shocking,” said William Bergman, a marketing instructor. “I am unique in that I have taught online, so I am not all that concerned about it. I know what’s going to happen. If I did not know anything about it, I would be pretty freaked out.”
Bergman has been teaching online courses at UR during the summer terms since 2017, he said.
“The challenge for me is that I am teaching three courses this semester and each course is different — a different subject, a different topic and a different group of students," Bergman said. “But, I have been shooting some videos the past couple of days and should be up to speed by early [this] week.”
Monti Datta, associate professor of political science, said that he had sent a Google form asking his students about basic information, such as whether they had brought their notes home or had access to a laptop.
“This past week has been sort of this searching and probing of what the best methods might be,” Datta said.
Datta intends to use Blackboard for class discussions and Zoom for online office hours, he said.
“As of now, I am not thinking about doing live online lectures with Zoom because I am unsure about the time zone that everyone is in, and I am a bit unsure about having 24 students pop up on that interface,” Datta said. “At the end of next week and the week after, I can begin to tweak with what’s working and not working.
“Curiously, I do a lot of mindfulness and a couple of students who have asked for guided meditations. I am even playing with this makeshift YouTube channel on mindfulness that I am growing.”
Students from the Department of Theatre and Dance will use multiple online resources, such as taped performances and virtual lighting labs for dance, wrote Sharon Feldman, interim chair of the department of theatre and dance, in an email on March 18.
“Fortunately, along with other arts department chairs, I was given advance notice before spring break that we might eventually have to move to remote learning, so I was able to communicate with my faculty about this possibility well in advance,” Feldman wrote.
Feldman wrote that students’ coursework may change when transitioning to remote learning.
“Acting students, for example, might find themselves devoting more time than originally planned to watching great acting and reading acting theory, and perhaps engaging in less acting themselves,” Feldman wrote. “Solo performance, in both theatre and dance, will naturally take precedence over ensemble work. Such performances can be recorded and shared through several means.”
Shannon Jones, director of biological instruction, said that with remote learning, her students would lose valuable, in-person labs.
“I teach a first-year course called ‘SMART,’ and we were actually in the middle of a two-week lab module,” Jones said. “Some of it I am going to have to do for them and then just post the data. Luckily, there are a lot of resources available for virtual labs, although we know there is no way that in-class time can be replaced. Essentially, we are missing six weeks' worth of very important lab time.”
Jones hopes the administration considers the impact remote learning will have on students, she said.
“As a professor, my number one concern is students, especially equity in terms of access to resources,” Jones said. “With remote instruction, there are some equity issues. Some students have to take on responsibilities at home, so that is going to limit the amount of time they have to spend on remote instruction. I am willing to accept that. I just hope my colleagues are more flexible and try to make this as equitable as possible.”
Jones is examining how to streamline her courses to best educate students, she said. Jones does not think that she will be able to deliver the same amount of content online as she would in-person, she said.
“This is going to be a difficult time for faculty,” Jones said. “The teacher I am in class may very well not be the teacher I can be online. I just hope that students can also be understanding of faculty as well.”
This is the third installment of a five-part series to be published about COVID-19.
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