Before this week, Dorice Elliott, an associate professor at the University of Kansas in the English department, said she had never heard of Zoom.
“I’ve read the instructions on the website, but I’m going to have to learn it from scratch — and I’m nervous about that,” Elliott said in an email to the Kansan.
As many students face the pressures of taking classes online for the first time, many professors face those of teaching classes online for the first time. Zoom, as practically all of both the student body and faculty members know now, is an online conferencing service many instructors have been using to continue educating students during the outbreak of COVID-19.
Elliott said even though her classes are largely discussion based, Zoom still won’t be as effective as a classroom setting is.
“Discussion is our lab. We can simulate it on Zoom, I guess, but it’s not the same as doing it in the classroom. I’m going to use it in my 10-person graduate seminar since discussion is the main activity and something like Blackboard’s Discussion Board isn’t really a good substitute," Elliot said. "For my undergraduate class, which is much larger, we’re going to have to rely mostly on the discussion board."
The University of Kansas announced Tuesday that all classes will continue online for the remainder of the spring semester, and on-campus residence halls will only be providing housing for students who need to stay at the University.
To Elliott, the biggest difficulty of the shift from in-class curriculum to online curriculum has been the rapid nature of the change.
“Doing it so suddenly has been the worst part, really,” Elliott said. “So much of my classes are the give-and-take between me and the students, and it’s been hard to replicate that.”
In an attempt to replicate her own lectures, Elliott said she has had to search for readings students can reach online. Additionally, Elliott said her classes use novels, plays and separate books instead of one class textbook. For students that may not have all these books with them, Elliott has been searching for editions online — a solution she said isn’t perfect, but should suffice.
Lisa Sharpe Elles, an assistant teaching professor in the University’s chemistry department, said she has also faced difficulties during this transition.
“My biggest challenge is navigating the huge amounts of information and new technologies as well as figuring out which technology and format is the best ... for my class without overburdening them with too much change,” Sharpe Elles said in an email to the Kansan.
Teaching two 100-level classes, Sharpe Elles faces another problem: large class sizes. Her Chemistry 110 class has approximately 160 students, while her Chemistry 130 has about 260 students. With concerns in regard to the logistics of having that many students in one Zoom chat, Sharpe Elles has opted to pre-record her lectures and have her students check in through iClicker Cloud within a 3-hour window close to the class’s regular meeting time.
“I wanted this to be a larger window, but am limited in how the iClicker software works,” Sharpe Elles said.
Her chemistry courses also have key lab components that can only be done inside a lab with the necessary materials.
“It would be really great if I could change up some of the labs to be kitchen chemistry experiments, but I can’t assume students have access to all of the supplies, so these will just have to be supplemental fun activities rather than required,” Sharpe Elles said.
Though in terms of official, required plans for her labs, those have still yet to be formally solidified.
Governor Laura Kelly announced that she will be issuing an executive order that limits gatherings to a maximum of 10 people during a press conference on Monday, March 23.
“Students will be watching a video, reading the procedure and performing a pre-lab quiz online through Gradescope,” Sharp Elles said. “I gave the TAs some flexibility with how they interacted with their lab class, but did request that they have the students discuss the lab in real-time by Zoom or by group chat on Slack. We will follow up at the end of the week to adjust things if necessary.”
Sharpe Elles made it clear that labs are still an integral part of her curriculum, and that her classes will use a combination of Ph. ET simulations (University of Colorado’s online tool for teaching math and sciences), videos and dry labs to make up for the loss of in-person labs.
She also said students will have to remain active in their own education.
“A big part of learning happens one-on-one during in-class activities and clicker questions, coffee hours and discussion sessions," Sharpe Elles said. "I won’t be able to recreate this online unless students are willing to Zoom chat with me.”
And it is this loss of an in-person class Elliott finds most saddening.
“It’s hard to be isolated from colleagues and the students,” Elliott said. “The real fun of the academic atmosphere is just gone.”