Amid snowfall, professors hold virtual classes

After many classes fell behind on their intended lesson plans during last week’s four snow days, some professors decided to hold virtual classes to thwart the bad weather.

Executive Vice President Donald Lehman announced Thursday evening that the University would hold make-up classes over four days at the end of April to replace the sessions missed last week. But with the delays complicating professor-determined class agendas, some instructors used technology to stay on track.

Professor Neil Cohen, who teaches finance, held online classes through Blackboard’s Elluminate Live! tool, allowing him to communicate with students. His students used the liveblog-like technology to participate in the class discussion and comment on the responses of other students. Professor Cohen gave the class lecture as if in video conference, and students consequently responded by posting their answers.

“Students could type questions and hear my responses,” Cohen said.

Since the make-up days at the end of the semester might not suffice in satisfying the expected curriculum, Cohen said this method is the only way to hold class for the time being. Teaching online “turned out to be almost as good as it would be in a classroom,” he said.

Apart from online classes through Elluminate Live!, “which were quite effective,” Cohen’s students used Blackboard to post questions and discussions in order “to keep the class rolling despite the weather,” Cohen said.

Ayman El Tarabishy, an assistant research professor of management, teaches entrepreneurship classes online on a regular basis.

Tarabishy said online classes have their advantages. Blackboard and its social media tools allow the class to communicate with the professor as if it were a live setting, thus “further engaging students in collective learning,” he said.

Tarabishy said student-professor interaction is not sacrificed with the lack of a typical classroom.

“A virtual class offers opportunities to learn and interact with each other, and this improves the level in quality of learning,” he said.

Conversely, some professors who did not hold virtual classes during the snow week saw notable setbacks in their lesson plans.

“Having missed the majority of this week’s lectures and classes means that I will need to reassess my syllabus calendar,” professor Benjamin Hopkins, who teaches history and international affairs, said. Hopkins said he believes make-up days at the end of the semester are unlikely to be enough to cover the missed material this week.

“It is simply a question of coming up with some coping strategies,” he said.

GW was not the only university looking for ways to keep classes on schedule despite recurrent class cancellations.

The University of the District of Columbia also approached the challenge of scheduling class during the snow week by devising online versions of classes.

Lectures were given via Skype, a video-conferencing technology, to connect students with professors as in a real-life setting. Some professors posted pre-recorded lectures and assignments online for students to keep up with the course schedule.

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