As of March 30, Missouri State University students are participating in online classes. But while students are focusing on their assignments, how are teachers being affected by the transition?
March 23 was supposed to mark the end of MSU’s spring break., but due to COVID-19, the break was extended another week to give instructors time to prepare resources for online classes.
Assistant media, journalism and film professor Holly Holladay said the extra week allowed her to write out all of the classwork she needed for the rest of the semester. Her new routine is having students turn in assignments Thursday and grading them Friday, which allows her time to write, research and reach out to students during the stay-at-home order.
“It has given me time to have advising appointments with students for my advisees for registration in the fall, to touch base with students just to chat,” Holladay said. “Part of my routine is writing, the other part of my job is research. So I've been doing some of that.”
Holladay said she offered online classes before, specifically a summer course about social media. Though due to the speed of COVID-19, the time before spring break was an anxious time until MSU officials were able to explain the plan.
“The biggest thing, to be honest, was that period of uncertainty right before spring break,” Holladay said. “Faculty found out that we were going to be going online the two weeks after spring break, but we didn't know anything about the rest of the semester yet, so that period there was a lot of anxiety because I didn't know if I was planning for two weeks or if I was planning for seven weeks. But once we found that out pretty quickly, Clif and the leadership team have been super great about communicating stuff with us, it went pretty well for me.”
Graduate student instructors are also affected by the transition. Madison Pullen, kinesiology 210 graduate student and instructor of a workout lab, said she has to provide proof that she is teaching to the university to continue to teach her lab. She said she uses email screenshots as proof.
For their move to online, Pullen said students are required to watch and discuss workout videos. She also created workouts for students to do and discuss. They provide details such as time and calories.
“We get our participation points from class, so we’ve had to watch videos and post on discussion boards,” Pullen said. “As a graduate assistant, I’ve had to post workouts on the days my class was. The students are still required to work out for the points they would have earned if we were still on campus. I created discussion boards that had workouts and allowed them to post their (heartbeats per minute), calories burned, and the time they took to complete the workout.”
Pullen said the transition has not affected her grading system, but she has to be “more flexible” for students who don’t have a computer at home. Pullen said the most difficult part of the transition was not being on campus to help her focus.
“The biggest challenge is getting a schedule down that works for each day,” Pullen said. “I’m usually on campus all day long, either teaching, assisting in class or doing my own school work. But now that there’s no schedule and no structure, that's my biggest challenge.”
Jordan Vega, graduate teaching assistant in geography, geology, and planning department, said in his labs, math is the hardest to teach, because he has to use an electronic whiteboard. Vega said it was also hard to teach online due to his student’s screen sizes, and because he can’t see students to know if he should continue or stop the lesson.
“One of the biggest challenges has been being able to see my class and engage with them socially,” Vega said. “I don’t quite get that when I am teaching online. Just because some students may have their webcams turned off or simply it's just like a one-way box. It’s selective what you can see, and I don’t know whether I should expand on the subject, or if I’m talking too much or too little.”
Vega and Holladay said the extra week given to instructors helped them greatly, with Vega saying it allowed him to become more “efficient” at using Zoom. Both instructors also said they miss seeing students in person, though Vega said the distance allows students to easily meet with him online.
“I have extended my office hours, and have also set up an email,” Vega said. “That way (students) can email me, maybe schedule a meeting time. So I’m much more flexible with that. And I think the students seem to receive this type of learning a bit better, just because they know I'm willing to provide more time to help them.”
As of April 17, 2020, MSU is planning to resume the 2020-21 school year with normal classes. Summer classes will be online but are not requiring students to pay fees.