After two half-semesters of virtual teaching, professors are learning to connect with their students in new ways, but it can still be challenging to get the level of engagement they want.

Josie DeGroot, professor of applied communication studies, has taught one asynchronous class and is currently teaching two online synchronous classes. She said her experience in computer-mediated communication has helped in understanding the role of technology in forming relationships.

“You’ve probably heard your older relatives saying, ‘oh, technology is ruining communication,’ you know, ‘kids these days.’ And it’s frustrating because the theory is actually — and research points out — that relationships become even more intimate online than face-to-face. It takes a longer time. It does take a little bit longer, so instead of the class really gelling in week six, it’ll be like week 10 … and so it’s just patience,” DeGroot said.

Jonathan Pettibone, psychology professor and undergraduate program director for the Department of Psychology, teaches research methods virtually, through a synchronous lecture on Fridays. Pettibone said he wishes more students would turn on their cameras during lectures.

“I’d like to see a few more cameras if possible, but that’s just because I give a better product when there’s a human on the other end of the line. It’s the same way; it’s a social interaction and it goes both ways, and it’s a better, more interactive lecture if I see people,” Pettibone said. 

DeGroot said it’s frustrating when people assume online teaching is easier than teaching in person.

“Online takes longer than face-to-face. You really have to plan a lot more and it requires a lot more creativity, and that’s the frustrating part when people are like, ‘oh, they’re teaching online, it’s so easy, why can’t they teach more sections,’ or ‘why does it cost the same?’ It’s like, well, it’s harder. It takes more resources,” DeGroot said. “And we didn’t sign up for this either. We know the students want to see us in the classroom and we want to see you too; that’s why we do this.”

Pettibone said he has learned through teaching virtually how much he misses students.

“It becomes a little harder and harder to find the motivation to keep producing videos and lectures when you don’t necessarily know how people are reacting to them, right? And something that you certainly miss is that when I do a video lecture, that lecture goes exactly where I want it to go,” Pettibone said. “There’s nobody to ask questions, there’s nobody to pull us in other directions and sometimes those other directions that we go in are really useful as a teacher because they tell me about what students need to know, what they don’t understand.”

Pettibone said he was surprised to see many students using online learning as an opportunity to work more, but that may mean they have less time to focus on schoolwork.

“For those of us that are fully online, I think that students have a little less time than I would’ve hoped to be able to keep up with this firehose of content that I’m producing, quite frankly. And I’m getting a little tired of the firehose. It’s hard to keep it going full-stream all the time without that interaction,” Pettibone said.

Pettibone said he has started sending notifications for office hours to encourage students to interact. Some students have attended office hours just to talk, Pettibone said.

“I guess I was surprised that initially some of the students who were coming by … really didn’t have anything to talk about, they just wanted to talk. They weren’t talking about the class, they were just talking … just wanting to chat,” Pettibone said. “So I suspect some of that is just due to increased isolation that we have or some feeling of distance from the class while we’re taking all these classes online.”

Charles Berger, professor of English, teaches an online asynchronous class, an online synchronous class and an in-person class. According to Berger, transitioning a seminar class from in-person to Zoom has not required major adjustments.

“Participation, it varies, but it always does. There’s students who like to talk more or students who talk less … that seems very natural, actually. Not too much in the way of adjusting had to go on,” Berger said. “I would say, when I think more deeply about it, the difference I think is really more for the student than the teacher in the sense that I don’t know how well the students have come to know each other.”

To find out how online learning has also affected students, check out The Alestle’s previous coverage.

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