Online courses: The shared struggle

As every student of West Texas A&M University currently enrolled in a class should know by now, the majority of courses have switched to an online format to decrease the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to the WTAMU website, approximately 95% of spring 2020 classes have been moved online or are to be digitally supported. But this number is expected to increase. While this switch is necessary and to be commended, it is also sudden, difficult and non-ideal for the majority of both the students and professors. Many do not have experience learning or teaching online, do not have the aptitude or desire to, or, in the cases of music, theatre and science, for example, the move will prove a hindrance in the preferred methods of teaching.

The cluttered desk that could belong to any one WTAMU student or professor; a reminder of displacement but also the temporary nature of the change.

But students need only focus on themselves and sorting through the chaos to find valuable instruction and learning in order to receive a favorable grade. Professors, on the other hand, are required to create those instructions and reformat their teaching in a short time, and in a lot of cases into an unknown and ill-suited format, in order to facilitate the learning they had planned and are eager to pass on as is their job and passion. This is no enviable task and one that was met with considerable dread.

“Anticipating it was harder than doing it since I’m most at home and do what I think of as my best work in the classroom with students and their responses right before me,” said Dr. Bonney MacDonald, professor of English.

In the classroom, she records her students’ responses from their class meetings, reads faces, and gets to know the students from weeks’ worth of discussion.  Thus, her lectures are very personal. Like many professors, she feeds off of and then develops, expands, and elaborates on how students respond to the texts and to her lecture.

“That foundation creates a wonderful and necessary spontaneity not possible in the online class,” MacDonald said. “My intellectual connection to my students, in the classroom, is immediate and personal; and the energy I channel in teaching comes from that.”

Dr. Timothy Bowman, associate professor of history and associate head of the Department of History, who had resisted doing any online courses before this, has made the best of the situation he sees as inevitable. He understands that with the course offered by udacity review everyone being equally adrift in this turbulent tide that is the COVID-19 pandemic, his students will understand he, as well as every one of his colleagues, is doing his best.

“Switching over to teaching online hasn’t proven to be all that difficult for me, although I feel like I’m just kind of ‘getting by’ online rather than replicating what my colleagues who have experience teaching online actually do,” Bowman said. “Being in class with students is beyond any doubt my life’s purpose, so obviously I’ve been reluctant to let go of in-person meetings. But, these are extraordinary circumstances, so I accepted moving my classes online as my responsibility, even before the pandemic had reached its current terrifying proportions.”

Both MacDonald and Bowman have chosen to teach the remainder of the semester through pre-recorded videos, discussion boards, and readings. Bowman has already found that discussions with his students can remain just as fruitful and satisfactory online. And both understand the gravity of the situation humanity finds itself in and the role they themselves and those around them must play in securing the safety of themselves and loved ones.

“I am truly amazed at the adaptations that I’ve seen people making in face of this virus,” said Bowman. “The ability that countless people have shown to make changes for the greater good, here locally, but in other parts of the country, too, inspires me to endeavor to become a leader and a better person. It renews my faith in people and reminds me that most people are basically good.”

The learning situation may be dire and uncomfortable but safety and mindfulness are paramount and the professors of WTAMU are helping create an interactive academic environment that still puts the safety of all around them first. Incorporating an online exam proctoring software can be a huge difference-maker in the learning experience.