College Classroom

After a year of online classes, SIUE has started to move back to face-to-face classes. Professors in various studies talk about what trends they are seeing as they move back into face-to-face classes.

Tricia Oberweis, a criminal justice professor, said she has the same class online as she has in-person but has found that her in-person class is much smaller than her asynchronous class. She has seven students in her in-person class with nearly 30 students in her online class. She said she isn’t sure why that trend has occurred and hesitates to make any conclusion from such a small data pool.

She said she also noticed that students aren’t always falling in a bell curve as in the past but instead a bimodal graph with a portion of students getting lower grades and the other portion getting much higher grades, with very few people in the middle.

“I think as a society, we thought that college students were sort of dying to get back into the classroom. I wonder if that was true,” Oberweis said. “I don’t know if it’s a real pattern or just kind of a fluke of a thing that I saw, but what I saw was that the in-person students divided up into kind of two chunks. There were the students who clearly hadn’t really lost any ground and they did fine on the test. Then there was a second group of students for whom the grades were lower than I would have expected.”

Erik Alexander, an associate history professor, taught all his classes online last semester but has all in-person classes this semester. He said he has noticed that students are generally doing better than they were last semester, not only grade-wise but also in engagement as well.

“The transition has been very, very positive. I think students seem to have adjusted well, and they’re happy to be back in the classroom. I saw a lot more problems last year, when we were online, where students would just sort of kind of give up halfway through the class,” Alexander said. And so I think being in person has been pretty beneficial.”

William Tucker, a mass communications lecturer, has been able to teach in person for the last few semesters. He did teach online in the spring of 2020 and said he struggled with making sure his students got all the information they needed. He said when teaching online, sometimes the lectures were missing information because he was not able to add notes that he thinks of while lecturing in person.

“When you type up your lecture and post it on Blackboard, that’s all there is,” Tucker said. “When you actually lecture in class so many things pop out of your head that your lecture notes end up being almost twice as long as what you just put on Blackboard and I think the students get more out of that.”

Oberweis, Alexander and Tucker all said that the majority of their in-person classes are traditional college students. Oberweis said she was interested in seeing if her online students were non-traditional students, but since it is an asynchronous class she often doesn’t get to form connections with those students. She said that not only has her attendance shifted, but so has her teaching style, changing her policy on an open-note tests.

“It’s interesting and it would be silly, I think, to imagine that we could go through a crisis that profound and a disruption of that magnitude and not see some stuff change or be impacted,” Oberweis said.

Tucker said he understands the need for online classes and appreciates the accessibility it provides but believes that students learn best when they are in person.

“[Online classes] creates accessibility for more students, so there are good reasons to have online teaching. But in general, my philosophy is I think learning happens best in person. That’s sort of the way we learn best, I think,” Tucker said. “I’d much prefer being in person and I’m really glad to be back in person.

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