In response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, colleges and universities nationwide have moved classes online. An anonymous comment on Twitter stated, “We cannot learn math through a screen!” Many statements throughout social media show that not only students but professors too are struggling trying to adapt to the sudden transition to virtual learning. That includes faculty members at Seattle Central College, who have found both success and failure while re-creating classroom instruction, assignments and tests for distance learning.
In a conversation about her biggest struggles, Erin Steinke, coordinator of the English department at Seattle Central as well as a full-time instructor said, “I’ve taught online for many years, so my adjustments haven’t been as challenging as is the case for many faculty who aren’t accustomed to online teaching. However, I am teaching a Young Adult literature class this quarter, and moving material that would usually be given in lecture and small group discussion to an online format has been pretty time consuming.”
Other teachers have shared the problem of adapting material that’s meant to be handled in the classroom. For example, many science classes rely on laboratory work that can’t be easily done in a virtual setting. Professor Phillip Mayer, who teaches Chemistry, commented, “We managed to fit in online labs with video labs on Youtube and other resources. There are also websites online that are simulated like games that you can move and select objects. So far, we were able to put in together the online versions of lab experiments that imitates what you would do in a face-to-face lab. It’s not the best, but it’s adaptable.”
Though internet savvy students with reliable network connections may adapt without too much trouble, instructors have encountered students that don’t have reliable network connections. “Once,” Mayer said, “I temporarily lost the Internet at home during a Zoom lecture and got thrown out of my Zoom class. That happened only once and I was able to log back in after a few seconds.”
Like other students, I, too, have experienced unreliable internet connection. I have gotten kicked out of my Zoom classes at least four times, and it takes me more than a minute to rejoin. I sometimes have to rely on my mobile hotspot. That may sound like an easy fix, but it still remains uncertain whether I will get kicked out again.
Many 21st century students in Seattle do have network connections and they know how to use them, but faculty have noticed another problem that seems common in the virtual classroom. Steinke says she’s “noticing that some students are struggling with managing time.” The English teacher says, “It’s quite a shift in terms of time-management, as compared to in person classes, when you have the instructor checking in with you most days. I think all of us (students and faculty) are struggling with the sheer number of hours that we are online each day now.”
In response to the question, “What should the school improve to make it easier for professors to succeed in providing online lectures” professor Mayer responded, “I think we are all doing the best we can under the circumstances. The school has provided live training and online training. Also, I have had several long Zoom meetings with the lab manager and I.T. to work out problems on my computer.”
As faculty and students get used to remote operations, it’s becoming clear that the pandemic is not likely to end soon. We still hope the pandemic declines, and that both students and faculty can go back to regular classroom operations, but until then, we remain quarantined, following the government’s recommendations.