Correction: Joseph Agor was misidentified as a Professor of Civil Engineering. He is an assistant professor of industrial engineering.
It’s a strange and scary world out there lately, and learning establishments are by no means exempt. With over two weeks into a virtual spring term due to COVID-19, we checked up with OSU teachers and students to see how they’re adjusting to an E–campus education.
For some, the new experience has been a little messy:
“I’m pretty sure I saw a classmate take a hit from their bong during one of our online lectures,” said one student. “I just thought, ‘Dude, what are you doing? You know your camera’s on, right?’”
“I left my mic on by accident once,” said another student. “Then my roommate and I started talking about random stuff while the class was taking a break. When I realized what happened, I thought ‘Aw crap, we could’ve been talking about anything and everyone else would have heard it!‘ So yeah… now I keep a sticky note on my laptop that says ‘MUTE YOUR MIC.’”
Though not ubiquitous, these experiences do highlight a few quirks that come with remote learning. Yet more so than the technical difficulties, the shift in social expectations and interaction has been hard for some.
“What I’m finding is that it’s hard to read the room with Zoom,” said Chris Anderson, Professor of English. “There is no room. It’s hard to read faces: you can see them, but they’re small and often shadowy, and flat on the screen. I hadn’t realized how much teaching depends on the body, on the sense of real, physical people breathing and moving and occupying space in a room.”
“I’m feeling a bit stressed about it honestly,” said Sam Clark, a junior studying biology. “I learn best face to face and I often feel more timid to speak up in class or ask any questions. I definitely am having a lot more trouble focusing in class, but I have noticed that since I started taking my notes online they have been a lot neater and it’s so handy to be able to take a screenshot of the lecture slide to save for later.”
A lack of motivation and engagement from students has some professors worried as well.
“It was a rough start for me with respect to… getting students access to my live lectures, but now it seems to be going smoothly,” said Joseph Agor, assistant professor of industrial engineering. “I think a challenge that I am facing is getting student interaction. I am using the ‘break out room’ feature within Zoom and that does seem to get students engaged with each other.”
As hectic as using Zoom for lectures can be, hands-on classes like labs and PAC courses have had a harder time adjusting:
“My roommates and I were really looking forward to this golf class that we’d signed up for,” said Duncan West, a senior studying engineering. “Now we just all get together on Zoom and watch golf instruction videos. It’s not exactly how I imagined our final term going.”
“There are a lot of things lost without the physical interaction,” said Karen Holmberg, Professor of English. “I’d planned for one of my classes to use the letterpress studio in Moreland Hall. It’s a great hands-on learning experience that’s hard to replicate with remote teaching. However, I think my students are doing the best they can! I appreciate the amount of patience and engagement that they’re showing so far.”
Given that many students might not have a stable internet connection for Zoom conferences, some teachers have opted to forgo synchronous lectures entirely, uploading audio files and interacting with their students through discussion forums.
“I’ve stayed away from Zoom because I didn’t want to force it on students who didn’t knowingly sign up for online classes and are frequently working under less-than-optimal conditions with irregular schedules and/or access to high-speed internet,” said Evan Gottlieb, Professor of English. “Recording my lectures, however, has been harder than I thought, and given me a whole new respect for podcasters!”
Despite all the glitches, bongs, and lack of hands-on interaction, things aren’t all bad. After an uncertain first couple of weeks, many of the faculty and students feel that they are getting the hang of things.
“I’m impressed with how professors are adapting their class schedule to fit online formats,” continued Clark. “It’s good to remember that this change is hard on both professors and students, so it’s good to have patience and understanding for both sides.”
“Overall the transition to remote teaching has been fairly smooth (no Zoom bombing yet!),” said Anita Cservenka, Professor of Psychology. “However, I’ve learned to accept that distractions from my child or dog are just part of the new experience, and my students have been very understanding,”
“There’s something sweet about Zooming now, too, and I feel a kind of sweetness from students (so far),” said Anderson, agreeing with Cservenka’s points. “I think we’re glad to continue at all, and at least for now it seems to be working well enough.”
“I’m thankful we have the technology — we have an alternative,” continued Anderson. “And maybe what we’re going to see is a new kind of community emerging — or new communities — and new efforts to be connected to each other.”
By Thomas Nguyen