Online Transition

How did teachers manage to the sudden change of moving classes online?

How did Radford University teachers deal with the sudden transition of shifting everything to online?

A lot of things have changed in these last three weeks. With this sudden, online transition, many students are still struggling with remote learning. This is sometimes due to the lack of interaction in some of the classes or the struggles associated with students who strongly rely on visual learning strategies. But, have we thought about how our professors and instructors have dealt with the new adjustments?

Dr. William Bill Kovarik, professor and research mentor for the school of communication at Radford University, talks about how he is adapting with the new change. “Conceptually, we had to re-imagine our best interactions with students. In a traditional in-person classroom, I can easily tell who is paying attention and sometimes shift remarks or call on them to focus on what (in my opinion) they should find interesting or useful. Now, all I can see of the digital classroom is a list of student names.”

Despite all of the challenges that our professors might be going through, they are still trying to make this experience as easy and smooth as it could be for students.

“I realize that it’s hard for students to work this way, so I have tried to reduce expectations for papers and assignments while at the same time expanding learning opportunities for students who have time and are really interested in these subjects. That means going back through D2L and syllabi and restructuring the courses without taking out essential stuff.” said Kovarik.

Remote learning can be challenging to students who prefer to visually learn, but one of the challenging things for Kovarik is having to record the audio version of the class for students who weren’t able to make it to the class time.

“Technically, it’s very difficult. Yesterday I gave a lecture/slide show on media ethics and only about half the class was there. But now, I have to add the audio version for the other half of the class. That’s going to take about two to three hours.” said Kovarik, “If I do that for every class, and figure there’s another 2 -3 hours of technical preparation, then we’re looking at six to eight hours per classroom hour, and it’s just a massive job when you have four classes meeting two or three times a week. Most of us have been working 60 to 70-hour weeks.”

Associate Professor and Media Studies Coordinator at Radford University, Dr. Kevin West Bowers’ biggest challenge was mainly for his production class to work with limited equipment,
“The biggest challenge for me was that my production classes require equipment and special classroom spaces. Generally, in those classes, I lecture more in the first half of the class, but the second half is mostly practical, and students are working on projects. Since we had to move online, I had to figure out what concepts of the class I could still teach and how the students could demonstrate that they understand those concepts with limited equipment.”

Like many other teaches, the whole process of shifting classes to online was stressful for Dr. Bowers, “It was very stressful; I usually spend a lot of time before each semester starts carefully planning out the course. I also have usually taught the course before so I have previous material to pull from.” said Bowers. “For this, I had to reconstruct everything in a week without ever having taught these classes this way. I’m usually a couple weeks ahead of my courses in terms of preparation but now that I have to create new materials from scratch, I am just trying to keep pace with my students.”

The outbreak of COVID-19 was not expected to impact so many aspects of our daily lives, and most teachers don’t have a plan B for these kind of situations. Most do not expect to move their classes to an online format in the middle of the semester to aid in student safety. “I don’t think anyone had a Plan B for this. I always have a back-up plan for my courses in case that projector or computer doesn’t work, if I finish a lecture early, or if I have to suddenly miss class, but I’ve never considered that I would have to completely move classes online in the middle of the semester.” said Bowers.

Dr. Shuo Yao is an Associate Professor of Communication at Radford University and talked with me about the challenges she had to deal with changing instructions in the syllabus and what stressed her most, “I had to change instructions for some requirements in class to allow students to work at their residence. And it needed to be done in a short time.” said Yao. “It was a little bit stressful. I had to carefully choose which requirements to be kept and which could be removed from the syllabus without influencing students’ learning.” said Yao. “For example, I intended to teach using SPSS to do descriptive statistics and make pie charts and bar charts in my research method class. Students will not have access to the software at their home. So, I also need to change to teach how to do descriptive statistics in Excel.”Dr. Yao thinks that the pandemic has affected our college academics and that we will see an increase of online programs, “I think we will see an increase in online courses/programs after this. Adding more online classes is something the university has already been doing over the last ten years. I believe we will see more classes moving online. And we will also extend our academic programs to other locations through distance learning.” said Yao.

Dr. Yao, advised students to keep track of their academics and to spend time weekly on their online classes in order to stay on track,“Make sure you keep track of all the due dates. What I noticed from my experiences, students who do well in online classes are very self-disciplined and they keep track of all the due dates and requirements diligently. You want to also make sure you spend time every week on your online class to keep up with lectures and assignments.” said Yao.

Dr. Sam Jennings, Assistant Professor for the sSchool of Communication didn’t think Radford University would go to these lengths, although the faculty of our university are doing a great job adapting to the situation, “I think it was very unexpected, so this incident made things very difficult for faculty and students. I do think that our faculty are doing a wonderful job adapting. The students seem to be doing an excellent job adapting to the situation as well. Radford’s leadership has been very supportive to both students and faculty during this situation.”

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