This being the second semester with a large portion of classes taking place online at West Virginia University, many professors and instructors now feel more confident helping their students make the most of their courses remotely.
“A difference from when I first started online to now is that I think that I feel more comfortable with the awkwardness that sometimes comes up when we’re online, and I think that my students do too,” said Jenny Johnson, an assistant professor of creative writing at WVU.
Johnson is now a fan of using breakout rooms on Zoom. The feature has not only helped her students connect in the classroom, but she said that she had an instance of a group of students stay after class in the Zoom meeting, talking for hours after class with each other.
“It just made me realize that I can at least give people the opportunity to connect,” Johnson said.
Jesse Wright, instructor in the Reed College of Media and a contributing editor with 100 Days in Appalachia, utilizes online polls and exercises during his synchronous classes to keep his students engaged. He also says that although he didn’t really struggle with instruction last semester, the learning tools he developed then were readily available for use this semester.
“So I’m not trying to build the plane as it’s flying, I have a plane and I’m just making sure it can go faster,” Wright said.
Wright also said that the University offered resources for professors when it came to online instruction. Using the already existing online courses and their instructors, they outlined standards and basics for classes that had never been taught remotely before.
“I think it’s definitely gotten a bit easier in terms of knowing what to expect,” Maria Gladstone, instructor and doctoral student at WVU, said, “so that’s been really helpful, because I don’t have to recreate things from scratch, I can just use the materials I’ve created in the past.”
Gladstone teaches yoga and meditation at WVU, and she says her department has now required students to obtain fitness trackers that connect to a website to help guide the students through their courses and ensure they are doing what is required of them.
Another difference for how some instructors run their online courses this semester in comparison to the previous is that they may be more compassionate to students who are having difficulties in class during the pandemic.
“We have to be ultra compassionate. Both to our coworkers and to our students, because nothing is normal. Nothing that we do from day to day is going to be normal,” Wright said. “I don’t want to be the person that keeps somebody from graduating.”
“I think being open and being genuine and caring is really important right now, because we’re all going through a lot,” Gladstone said.