“Let’s Talk About Online Learning,” an informational panel hosted virtually by several EMU professors was held on Thursday, August 27. The webinar explored different techniques professors in a variety of departments are taking this year to ensure the best possible outcomes for student learning.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, most EMU classes are being held online through Zoom, Canvas, or other online applications. This has created a rising number of questions, problems and worries for students who are forced to face this new method of learning.
In response to these concerns, Eastern Michigan University held the Aug. 27 webinar, sending an email on Wednesday, August 26 inviting students to register and attend.
How professors are adapting their teaching styles to online learning
The webinar started at 12:30 p.m. with EMU Political Science professor Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein as a moderator. Bernstein welcomed everyone and reminded viewers that the discussion was held in order to help students learn. For this reason, the discussion featured an open question box, allowing audience members to type in questions to be answered by the panel of professors.
Alongside Bernstein, the panel included Dr. Harriet Lindsay, Dr. Michael McVey, Dr. Jessica Elton, Dr. Cassandra Barragan, and Dr. Vernnaliz Carrasquillo.
Lindsay, a Chemistry professor, who teaches primarily sophomore classes, was the first to describe her virtual teaching method. Lindsay explained that she teaches using a “flip classroom” style, where students will watch a video before attending class. Once in class, they will break off into small groups. According to her, this increases interaction, enables her to get to know her students better, and is still relatively easy while using Zoom.
McVey, an education professor with close to 40 years of experience, followed Lindsay. Despite his lengthy career in classrooms, he explained that he has used online teaching methods since 1998. According to McVey, his experience with online learning applications has prepared him for virtual teaching due to COVID-19. He explained that he had an entire class without meeting the students in person, including an online master’s degree program. He told viewers he knows online courses can be just as effective as face to face learning.
Elton, a professor in the Communications, Media and Theatre Arts Department, expressed that she too thinks online formatted courses can be positive experiences once students are acclimated. Elton has taught at EMU for 12 years including compressed classes, usually a 15-week course cut down to seven weeks and fully online.
Barragan, the fourth professor to be introduced, works in the Social Work department and has been teaching online for many years. She explained that with the advanced technology available now, online learning can allow students to still involve themselves in a way that can still feel normal.
Carrasquillo, a professor in Engineering and Technology, was the last to present. Prior to COVID-19, she asked her students to read and watch videos prior to class, leaving time for them to work together during class. She is hoping to replicate this teaching style in an online format.
Use a calendar to plan out your week
Bernstein explained the importance of clearing up the new vocabulary that comes with online learning; synchronous classes versus asynchronous classes.
Synchronous classes are watched live at a set time, whereas asynchronous classes can be watched anytime time throughout the week as they are prerecorded.
Dr. Carrasquillo explained that it is important for students to put classes on their calendar, therefore treating them as if they are going to that class in person. When designating a time for asynchronous classes, she says that students will be able to ensure steady pacing and meet important deadlines.
Agreeing with Carrasquillo, McVey suggested students use an online calendar.
“Learn to use Google Calendar, or some sort of calendaring application. Figure out when the assignments are due, work yourself back in time to figure out how much time you’re going to need to get it out there, and get yourself on top of things. It’s so easy to fall behind. It’s so easy to think that online education is easier. You may save some time on the commute, but it will catch up to you if you miss a deadline or two,” said McVey.
Building relationships in a virtual campus environment
Though all the professors agreed that either format of online classes can be executed well, Dr. Bernstein said he worries about building relationships and making connections with students.
“How can students . . view us [professors] as more than a two-dimensional box that sits on a screen in front of them?" asked Bernstein.
In response, Lindsay made the comment that professors find this time as lonely as students might.
“We miss interactions just as much as you [students] miss interactions. So don’t feel intimidated or worried at all about contacting us because we really want to talk with you. So please take advantage of office hours because we don’t want to be sitting in a room all by ourselves,” Lindsay said.
In light of wanting to interact more with their students, professors are trying to set forth different ways to make contact with students.
“One of the things that I have done, besides holding Zoom office hours, is setting up a Google phone number, so students can contact me directly. It is a way that if my office hours don’t work or if it’s an issue that either they’re not comfortable discussing via email or prefer not to talk via email, I will be able to talk to them . . . I am really trying to find as many ways as I can provide for students to reach out to me,” Elton said.
“If you don’t tell us, we don’t know, so if students ask questions about an assignment or content they don’t understand then that is my prompt to explain it in a more clear way. There are tutoring and writing services on campus as well. Anything that you are struggling with there is a resource that we can point you towards or that we can provide you more information [on]. I know that if a student asks me a question that has to do with an assignment or content I will put it on the discussion board,” followed Barragan.
Adding to Elton, Bernstein said, “All of us on the screen went into this business because we like working with students and we like getting to know the students that we are teaching, so we are cherishing opportunities to get to know you.”
Trying to create ease while finding time to talk to students, Barragan is using a scheduling app that allows students to choose the time of their appointment in advance. McVey found that Remind, a third party application that allows students to insert their phone numbers anonymously, creates quick and easy communication back and forth between professor and student.
Following on the note of communication, Bernstein urged students to make sure they are checking their EMU email accounts, as that is where most of the communication between professor and student will occur.
Professors are creating different techniques for communicating, but many students are also worried about how to connect with their peers. All the professors acknowledged that this can be difficult, but they are trying to create ways to get around this obstacle and build a strong community with their students. One way to do this is by using Flipgrid, a video discussion application.
“One of the things that I’m going to try to do this semester is to use more video discussions. Flipgrid sort of dissolves students from having to craft a written response to questions, but also, I think that being able to see a video of someone responding kind of gives you an idea of who they are . . . It will also take us away from the constant typing and give them a chance to just talk,” Elton explained.
The conversation shifted as it was time for the professors to discuss the subject of technical difficulties. Since it is a major fear of students and professors moving forward in an online course, the panel unanimously agreed that simply put, communication is key.
“Most of us are empathetic, reasonable people and were going to make accommodations to these kinds of things [technical difficulties] because they happen to us too,” Lindsay said.
If the technical issue is in regards to Canvas, there is a help module on the bottom left corner of the Canvas page. The Canvas Support Hotline which students can call is 1-844-326-6322. Additionally there is the COVID-19 Canvas Resources website and an EMU - Online Student Services help page.
Overall, the webinar’s common idea was to ask for help when you need it and to be proactive. If a student finds themselves struggling, they were urged to always reach out early, re-enforcing the idea to be on top of things and not to fall behind.
“We want you to do well and we are going to work to help you and to try to encourage you to do well and to make it possible for you to do as well as you can. It is a different format than many of you are used to, it is a different format than many of us are used to right now, but we are committed to helping you do well,” Bernstein concluded.
The webinar was recorded and is available for public viewing on Youtube.