How are profs responding to the pandemic?
By Jessica Berget, Editor-in-Chief
The shift from in-person classes to strictly online classes has not been easy for us students, clearly. But, how have the professors been handling it? The Other Press asked Douglas College instructors from various fields and study on how they have dealt with the transition, what resources and tools they are using for their online classes, and what they miss the most about face-to-face teaching.
When asked about what alternatives he has taken, English Department Professor David Wright stated that he cancelled all classes quick. “Even back when we were meeting face-to-face as this was emerging, I didn’t want students to be stressed about losing marks if they were sick—I wanted them to stay home.”
“I’ve found it very challenging to pivot to an online format,” said English Professor Noëlle Phillips. “I very much prefer face-to-face instruction. I’ve tried to approximate some of our workshops and discussions through the limited use of Google Docs and message boards, which does allow students to share ideas—but isn’t quite the same as a classroom conversation of course. I’m also essentially dropping deadline requirements and giving all students whatever extensions they need.”
English classes are one thing—it’s arguably easier to share documents and essays over Blackboard and email but teaching classes online that require consistent assignments and accumulative learning like Maths and Sciences is a challenge.
“Firstly, I teach mathematics—not ideally suited to online delivery,” said Professor Wesley Snider. “I spent a couple of anxious days trying to decide what would be the best way to deliver my lectures remotely with minimal disruption to the students. Every extra day I spent was another day my students’ classes were delayed (my courses are all prerequisites for other courses, so skipping material is problematic). I felt it was best just to make a decision and go with it,” he said.
Many online classes have been carried over to the popular group video chat website Zoom, or have their lectures filmed and sent to the students. This is how the professors of Douglas are dealing with online courses.
“I am using Blackboard and email. I set up some office hours on Blackboard Collaborate and gave weekly folders with audio lectures and screencasts where I would work through materials,” said English Professor David Wright. “I also subscribe to the philosophy of ‘two simple things.’ I have taught in online environments for many years and I always remind myself that the simplest possible option is often the best one. I made discussion boards available, but didn’t set expectations around them,” he said.
“I opted for a variation of what is sometimes known as the ‘flipped classroom’ model,’” said Snider. “I do an abbreviated version of my lecture essentially as a talking hand, narrating my written work. Instead of doing these ‘live,’ I decided to simply record these sessions and post them on Blackboard. I then hold several on-line office hours per week” he explained.
One question still rings in every students’ mind—“what about our final exams?” Since in-person exams have been suspended, these are the ways some Douglas College professors have done their final assessment.
“I usually offer take-home exams, so this wasn’t an issue for me,” said Wright. “That said, I think times like these and any sudden shifts in learning contexts really push our learning requirements. If a student doesn’t need to recall information under pressure, or meet particular curriculum standards, there are lots of other ways to assess learning than a sit-down, timed, in-person exam,” he said.
“For quizzes and exams, including the final, I post a fairly traditional—though shorter—version of the evaluation on Blackboard. It is timed.” said Snider.
“For the courses that have a final exam, I have given students the option to write the final (which is a single essay) or not to write it. Students that choose not to write it, because not everyone is able to focus right now to be honest, will have the grade percentage of the final exam reweighted into two other previous completed essay assignments. Doing the final can give students the chance to boost their grades, but I have decided not to make it mandatory. Students’ mental health is important right now, and their college courses won’t be their top priority,” stated Phillips.
Disappointed is what many students felt about in-person classes being cancelled, and professors share those woes.
“What I really miss is being able to give students a space to ask questions and clarify things. This is especially true in a situation like the one we’re in, where anxieties are already super high. Instructors like me need to remember that students are out there doing their part in all this too… working, helping relatives, and who knows what. I miss being a space where they can escape from that and pursue things that are important to them. I kept telling my students just to ‘land the plane,’ and I think that’s the right direction for where we are now, but it’s not why I got into higher learning” said Wright.
“I miss everything about face-to-face classes. There is no real replacement for it. I cannot interact with students in the same way, see who is there and who is not, see the expressions on faces, develop the same level of engagement, latch on to the ‘teachable moments,’ deal with impromptu comments, etc. All I am doing now is the best I can with the situation we have. I can’t wait until we are back on campus,” said Snider.
“I recognize that students will not be able perform to their usual standards, because none of us can. With that in mind, I am more flexible in my marking criteria in recognition of the fact that it’s amazing students have managed to complete and submit assignments at all. This is a public health crisis and students are affected in all sorts of ways,” said Phillips.
Wright also gave props to his students for dealing with our current pandemic so well. “I tried to keep them informed and communicated my own flexibility as things changed. It’s a scary and anxious time. It was important to me that I not be another source for fear and anxiety, so I was pretty quick to tell students that we would figure out solutions together and that I was there to support them, not act punitively,” he said.