With a new reality dawning upon Americans as the COVID-19 global pandemic takes hold, many U.S. colleges and universities are closing their doors and sending their students home to take classes online. As many university faculty adjust to a wholly new method of teaching, those with more online teaching experience are sharing their knowledge to ease the transition.
At American University in Washington, D.C., students have shifted to online classes for at least a three week period starting at the end of the school’s spring break.
“While the risk to our community remains low at this time, this could change quickly,” American University President Sylvia Matthews Burwell said in a March 10 announcement. Our precautionary actions will help limit potential exposure to COVID-19 and enhance our ability to manage and/or isolate any suspected or confirmed cases that may occur at the university.
Frank Dubois, a professor of international business at the university who has experience teaching online classes, to The College Post American University may remain online for the remainder of the spring semester.
He said the university is putting a lot of resources into ensuring faculty are prepared for the transition to online classes and faculty are holding online meetings through Blackboard to share strategies with less experienced online teachers.
“Faculty are at various levels of preparation,” Dubois said. “Some are fairly technologically savvy and it’s not going to be that much of a heavy lift to go online; some perhaps less so… Things like this happen and I think we’re fairly well prepared for it.”
At California State University Fullerton, which began teaching classes fully online this week, a similar dynamic is playing out. Timothy Green and Loretta Donovan have both taught online for a decade in CSUF’s education department, and the department chair has asked them to support other faculty in making the transition to a virtual classroom.
“One of the tools that we use is Zoom, which is a video conferencing tool and we’ve been having sessions where we show them how to use those tools,” Green told The College Post. “We’ve also been talking to them about how to structure the online classes with strategies and tips to think about as they transition to the virtual environment.”
Green and Donovan especially emphasized the importance of maintaining social and emotional learning from the classroom to the virtual classroom. In brief, social-emotional learning, also known as SEL, is an evidence-based style of teaching which takes into account a student’s emotional and social needs as well as their educational needs to aid them in the learning process.
According to Donovan, in order for teaching to be most effective, students need to feel connected and supported while learning, especially in a situation where schools are removing teachers and students from their physical classrooms in the midst of a global pandemic.
“Online teaching and learning is a real community of learners and that’s where that social and emotional support comes in…and as a faculty member, really helping to support and to just be compassionate,” Donovan told The College Post. “Our students and teachers have just been thrown out of their own classrooms, their kids have been thrown out of their classrooms, and it’s just so much for them to handle.”
Students are, of course, making their own transition into the digital learning space. In order to keep up with assignments, Dubois recommended students keep up with their textbook readings regularly, check emails and Blackboard to stay up to date. He also suggested using discussion boards on Blackboard to communicate with the professor and other students. Dubois said Blackboard can be a great tool for teachers as well and that he’s using the platform to post powerpoint slides and video lectures for students to use as resources.
“One of the problems we have with this generation of students is they don’t read emails and I’m sure not going to group text 65 students,” Dubois said. “The critical thing from the student perspective is read your emails, read the blackboard announcements, use a discussion board in the blackboard.”
Dubois said one major challenge of learning online is managing the “synchronous” and “asynchronous” aspects of an online curriculum. Synchronous means content or assignments that students do live and in real-time with their professor, and asynchronous referring to any assignments students must complete individually on their own time.
Managing these two components of online classes can be especially challenging because many professors have exchange students who, after following advice to head home during the coronavirus outbreak, are now in totally different time zones than their professors.
“I think initially there was a big push…to go synchronous and then eventually academic leadership realized it’s going to be a little bit harder than we thought because we have students all over the world right now,” Dubois said. “We’re a very international student body. As a result, they’re everywhere, so we need to accommodate them.”