For many professors, this semester’s unprecedented set of challenges has thrown a wrench into the status quo of typically in-person courses. With many deciding to teach virtually, professors have been tasked with learning entirely new skill sets to reach across the screen and deliver effective and engaging instruction.
Seeing no effective or rational way to deliver her course in-person, mathematics professor Katharine Shultis decided to teach her 300 and 400 level courses remotely this semester.
“One of the things that really impacted my decision was that I like to have students engaged in small group conversations in my classes,” Shultis said. “Knowing that we would have to keep 6 feet apart and that we couldn’t share pieces of paper or markers meant that I didn’t see a good strategy for doing that in a physical classroom whereas the tools we have on Zoom and other collaborative platforms seemed much better equipped to have that sort of discussion.”
In some ways, Shultis said she felt more prepared going into this semester than previous semesters. Teaching remotely meant she could rely on the course consistently being online as opposed to having to worry about switching midway through the semester, as was the case in the spring.
Communications professor Juliane Mora also said this semester required more preparation and contingency planning on her part than previous semesters.
Teaching virtually is something Mora never imagined herself doing. For almost 20 years, Mora has been able to build upon her experiences standing in front of a classroom, but when teaching via Zoom, Mora said she always has to have a backup plan in case there are technical difficulties.
“You also have to be a little bit fearless,” Mora said. “You can’t do this if you’re scared because I think technology knows when you’re scared. You have to be willing to say, ‘OK this isn’t working, I’m not going to keep trying it.’”
Mora utilized tools on Blackboard and the communication platform Slack to help facilitate and engage her students in large and small group dialogue. These resources have allowed her classes to virtually mimic conversations they would typically have in the classroom as best as possible.
With math courses, Shultis said the challenge with virtual classes lies in the inability to turn in handwritten assignments when for many students, that is the only way they know how to communicate their work.
“Teaching students that there are tools and ways they can share their handwritten work with me was a big challenge back in March,” Shultis said. “Moving into this semester, because I’m prepared and because these are upper division courses, I’ve been able to teach the students different tools they can use to type their mathematical works.”
In addition to having students submit high quality scans of their handwritten work, Shultis has implemented new programs such as LaTeX, which is a software used to turn type into mathematically accurate equations.
Some courses, however, still require in-person instruction, such as nursing professor Martin Schiavenato’s senior level practicum course.
Students in this course go into the community to complete clinical time at Sacred Heart or Holy Family Hospital as well as view asynchronous lectures posted to Blackboard.
Since the nursing program is a professional training program licensed by the state of Washington, students must complete a certain number of required clinical hours. When classes were moved online back in March, the nursing department petitioned the state board to accept some of their time as virtual clinic hours.
Virtual clinic hours consist of videos of “patients” or case scenarios where they are presented with a patient and must utilize different products and resources.
According to Schiavenato, the original plan was to implement this format after Thanksgiving break when all classes would be moved online. However, Schiavenato said they are already having to utilize virtual clinic hours for students who have come in contact with positive COVID-19 cases or have tested positive themselves.
“Students appreciate that they can still practice some skills, but they don’t feel that it’s the same as actually taking care of a patient, so the reality level is lacking and that’s something they miss,” Schiavenato said.
Shultis, Mora and Schiavenato said the one thing that could not be emulated virtually was the interpersonal connection and chemistry built when you’re together in a classroom.
Despite all the challenges this semester has thrown at them, professors said above all, the student’s willingness to adapt and learn can make all the difference.
“They’re really resilient kids, they’re happy to be back, they’re excited to be in school and they look forward to making the most of it,” Schiavenato said. “You know they have a very positive attitude so I think that goes a long way and you can tell they’re ready to just roll with it and that’s just wonderful to see.”