Classes will move online for the rest of the semester as the novel coronavirus continues to spread. Switching to virtual courses will be difficult for students and faculty, and flexibility from professors is key to a successful transition.
For many professors, transitioning online means learning new technology in a short time. For students, online classes mean trying to do complete classwork in the middle of a panic, all while they need to make tough calls about their future housing, employment and travel home. Online classes are not ideal for anyone, but there are ways to make the change easier for everyone.
Faculty cannot expect to recreate the traditional classroom environment in online courses. They should not hold the same expectations for grading, exams and teaching because every student will face unique situations, whether it be a time difference or difficult home life.
Professors need to adjust their syllabi and modify teaching on course material. Even though most classes will have the same amount of time to cover material, it will be harder to utilize that time and more difficult for students to learn. Studies show that students taking online classes retain less information and perform worse than peers taking the same course in-person. Faculty must understand that teaching course material the same way they planned at the beginning of the semester is not possible. They should focus on teaching students about the most important topics. Shifting classes to teach only the big-picture information might mean students gain a less comprehensive understanding of the classes, but at least they will be equipped with the knowledge they need to succeed in class.
Professors should be conscious of their teaching methods as well. Online learning experts say students stop watching videos after only about six minutes despite the length. Professors should prioritize information, and post videos of lectures in chunks. They should make their lectures accessible to people with hearing impairments placing closed captions on their videos.
For students who live in different timezones, professors should also be conscious of due dates and the time of their online classes. Requiring students to attend a live class online is not fair to students who might have to wake up in the middle of the night. Professors must be flexible with those students and provide recorded lectures. For due dates and exams, professors should allow students living in different time zones to turn in assignments later. Communicating with students who do not live in Eastern Standard Time will allow them to relieve some stress about how they can better handle class.
There are ways to improve distance learning and create an effective classroom environment, like ensuring the curriculum fits the teaching medium and establishing clear means of communication. But best practices for distance learning are intended for courses that were supposed to be online – the current state of the University is much different. Faculty should not hold themselves to those standards. It is not possible to implement them in the one week before students return from break.
The move to online instruction is going to be a taxing adjustment for faculty and students. Professors should take steps to make the transition easier like prioritizing key information, changing due dates for exams and assignments and setting realistic expectations. Students and professors are stressed as is, and understanding how the online course transition can be difficult might limit additional stressors. Emphasizing communication between faculty and students will help make a difficult situation easier for everyone.
Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a junior majoring in political science and psychology, is the opinions editor.