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Professors face challenges as classes transition online

Editors Note: ‘Covid on Campus’ is a four-part series. This is the third part on the Coronavirus and its impact on the College.

Nearly every aspect of normal life has been affected by the spread of the coronavirus.

One huge area COVID-19 is impacting is higher education. Colleges across the nation have been thrown into uncertain waters as they are forced to convert to online-only courses.

The coronavirus pandemic compelled campus officials to halt all lectures and most in-person classes as of March 10. Most faculty and lecturers were caught off guard because many did not have experience teaching online courses. Most had to scramble to learn how to deliver lectures via Zoom or other online services.

Some may not think that college students are affected in a major way. However, that is not the case. Now, colleges across the nation are looking like ghost towns in the middle of a time when normally it would be busy with students.

“It was a hard transition for everyone,” said Rebecca Greene, assistant professor of speech communication. “It was hard for professors and it was hard for students. I also really missed the in-class interaction. That is a major reason I love teaching- the energy and interaction that comes from class together! It was lonely and isolating to teach only online.”

For some, the transition to online classes may have been easier than for others. South Plains College offers a large variety of classes that are hands-on intensive, which might make it harder for students to learn the material needed for the course. But it makes it harder for the professors to teach their classes as well. 

“My entire teaching career of over 30 years has been all in class,” said Timothy Werenko, professor of chemistry at SPC. “ I never taught online, never intended to teach online, and don’t plan to do it again.  To move my courses to an all-online format in only a week or two was quite a challenge.”

Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Science Building on the Levelland campus has been under renovation. Many students and professors have dealt with these challenges very well,  but it has made the semester harder on them since March.  

For many professors, their teaching abilities may have been limited as to how they conduct their classes. However, for others, even though the transition to online was not ideal for the class, they made the best of it and did what they could to help their students be successful. 

“Honestly, the change for me wasn’t terribly difficult,” said Marc Wischkaemper, instructor in automotive technology. “The Electude program we used for the online portion was offered to us at no charge as a trial. Many parts of this program are interactive, using diagnostic tools and testing methods that resemble real-life technician scenarios. I personally received several positive comments from students about how much they learned using Electude, but they also said it’s not the same as hands-on.”

Sharing resources and strategies have been necessary to the instructors’ success with teaching online. With the help of Amy Shriver, the director of instructional technology, and Instructional Designer, Heather Medley, professors were able to transition their classes smoothly to the online format.

“The transition, although difficult and time consuming, was fairly smooth,” said Shriver. “My department offered several training sessions led by us and other faculty members for assistance in the tools and software we have available. We recorded those and allowed faculty to have access to them if they were unable to attend.”

Shriver explained that there were a few challenges with certain departments, however, there were many innovative tools to use for courses that are harder to teach online. There were trainings on several different tools to have real time class meetings, video apps, and discussion tools to help keep the integrity of the courses at the level they are in a face-to-face environment. 

“Since I knew nothing of online teaching, and only had a short time to transition, I made up my mind to keep things streamlined – for me and my students,” said Werenko. “I made the decision upfront not to try to have my online classes match point for point with my traditional classes.  There was a limit to my ability.  Teach what I could, well, and don’t overextend.”

Online learning can be an effective, rich and fulfilling experience but it requires students and faculty to pay careful attention to the different experiences, as well as taking advantage of all the tools given to be successful. 

“For my students who had face-to-face classes that transitioned online it was really hard,” said Greene.  “I know some didn’t have a computer and/or high-speed internet at home, and so that was an obstacle for them already.  Then, there was a huge transition and change in the way information was delivered, explained, the ability to ask questions, and in the schedule. For many, I believe it was hard and lonely.”

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