Online Learning

How professors are dealing with the transition to online learning

By Katrina Irhin

Copy Editor

 

Despite the challenges, CCM professors have been finding different ways to move to online lectures for their students, specifically by using the internet and digital platforms to either live stream lectures in real time or record and post them on the internet. Dr. Teresa S. Birrer, a professor of biology, has found several different digital platforms she is going to use to teach her students, and she is going to be using them in various ways to make easy-to-use lectures for her students.

“I will be recording audio on top of my Powerpoint slides using Techsmith Capture,” Birrer said. “The result looks like a YouTube video that can be started or stopped at any point.  These lectures will be posted for students to view at their convenience, as many students must share computers with other family members.”

Birrer is not the only professor who will be using digital platforms to make lectures for her students. Marcia Picallo, professor of languages and ESL, will also be using digital platforms to teach.

“Zoom seems to be… flexible when it comes to teaching and, especially, recording lessons that students can watch several times,” Picallo said.

Lecturing is not the only way that students can learn in the classroom setting. They may also learn through performing science lab experiments. Professors such as Birrer not only lecture for their biology classes, but also teach lab sections for them. Despite the fact that most of her students this semester were supposed to be doing their lab activities at the CCM campus, she nonetheless has found alternate methods to use the internet and make it possible for her students to complete their lab activities at home.

Thanks to the generosity of many publishers, we have a multitude of virtual labs available at no cost for the remainder of the semester,” Birrer said. “I am working with other faculty in our department to select appropriate online lab exercises that will cover the material we would be covering in person. It is not the ideal situation for science courses, but it will certainly work in the emergency situation we are experiencing. Although I normally teach a face to face, non-majors biology course, that course is already taught in an online format, so I have been able to adapt some of the materials from the online course for the rest of this semester.”

Besides lecturing and, for some professors, doing lab activities, professors must also conference with their students. In addition to doing lectures and lab exercises on the internet, conferences are being conducted with the use of digital platforms. One platform that professors are using to conduct conferences is Shindig, which, according to its own website, is a platform that “enables a host to give a video conference, lecture, seminar, interview or media event in front of an online audience of thousands.” 

“After checking out Shindig, I feel that that program will work better for office hours,” Picallo stated.

Shindig is what some professors are going to be using for video conferencing with their students. Other professors have found different platforms that will suit them better.

“As the semester continues, I may teach myself to use some new technology that could benefit my students, but for now I have Zoom which can be used for video meetings with students if they would like,” Birrer stated. 

Despite the fact that there are digital platforms that professors are going to use to help totally move their teachings and conferencing to an online environment, this transitioning does not come without its hardships. As stated by Birrer before, many students share computers with other family members, so some students will not be able to attend the lectures that some professors video stream. There are other conflicts, technology-related or not, that will arise with this transitioning to an online environment.

“I do understand that some students were taking my face to face class because they do not do well with the online format,” Birrer stated. “For those students this will be a challenge.  I will work as much as possible to help them be successful in a learning environment that might not be best for their learning style. I also have a good rapport with my students in person and will miss seeing them. My non-majors evening class was particularly active in asking questions in all areas of biology. I hope they will continue to seek answers to their questions.” In addition, Birrer stated that she knows she has some students who do not have access to any cameras, and others who only have wifi on their phones. “We have some obstacles to overcome, but we will figure out how to work with everyone.”

Birrer is not the only professor who acknowledges that some students find that they work better in an in-person environment, as Picallo recognizes this as well. 

“I love teaching and interacting with students in the class. I’m going to miss that. The online format is just not the same in that sense. Some of the disadvantages, although I don’t want to call them disadvantages; they’re obstacles that a person may have that have nothing to do with their own doing-and that’s why they take a lecture-type class. For example, when I was in college, I had very limited financial resources. If I would have had to deal with something like this, I would have had a lot of trouble finishing my semester. I would have had many obstacles to overcome financially. My survival would have come first. I’m being honest. I’ve already encountered challenges that this situation is presenting. A student may not have Internet or enough data on his/her phone. CCM has reached out to professors, staff and students to provide help to all of us. I’m hoping we can work together to solve some of these issues and get through the semester successfully. I don’t want my students to suffer. I teach because I want all of you to have better lives.”

With there being these types of conflicts that not only students must face but also professors, both Birrer and Picallo want to offer students advice on how to deal with college and life in general during the pandemic.

“It is difficult for all of us to stay at home and feel isolated,” Birrer stated. “My family and I have been watching movies most nights and going for walks during the day.  Try to do everything you would to keep your immune system healthy. Quarantine junk food seems to be a thing, but a healthy diet is important as well as regular exercise and sleep habits. Fresh air and sunshine are not good for the Coronavirus, so as the weather warms up go outside more and more.  I plan to record lectures from by deck soon. Finally, I would like students to know that the faculty are there for them should they just need to talk. These are stressful times, and we must help each other come through with both physical and mental health intact.” 

In addition, Birrer states that what would be the biggest benefit for students during this pandemic would be for them to follow the medical advice of staying safely at home.

Picallo also offers advice for students to help them get through what is currently going on.

“Stay healthy; stay in touch with your professors; and stay calm. We’ll get through this together.”