As the third semester of online schooling begins, it's no secret that many people, professors and students alike, have struggled with the virtual format. For professors, the real challenge has been finding a method that works best for them and their students. For some, this meant choosing between hybrid or online. For others, it was facilitating a class that used to rely heavily on a physical presence like dance.
Dance professor Sarah Glesk taught Jazz I, Contemporary/Modern Dance and Accelerated Ballet, all with the hybrid option. Students could choose to dance on Zoom or in person, with restrictions on both. Those in the studio only had 10-feet-by-10-feet squares to move in.
“It was different in the space for the kids who are in studio, because it's almost like they had walls in the 10-foot squares,” Glesk said. “I never encouraged people to talk in a dance class like I did this year. So I started making up more projects where they had to show something or teach something to one another so that they would get to know one another.”
The Swivl was enlisted for the support of the Zoom students, as it is a device that turns to follow the moving dance professors. Often technology would not work as planned, with the class on Zoom disappearing, the Swivl struggling or difficulty in connecting to audio, but Glesk has learned to give herself grace.
Another struggle Glesk faced was choreographing in a smaller space and needing to plan combinations more than normal.
“I had to get creative and fit everything in 10-feet-by -10-feet, and I found it more difficult for jazz,” Glesk said. “We tend to usually do things traveling across the floor, it's repetitive, and you couldn't do these. I learned a lot about choreography and myself and how to get creative with it.”
Even with the difficulties, Glesk enjoyed teaching and watching her students develop their own style throughout the semester, especially with their final projects.
“I love getting to know my students and seeing them grow throughout the semester,” Glesk said. “And I think that had to do with coming in so hesitantly and not knowing what it was looking like, and then by the end, people were more comfortable.”
Mathematics professor Eric Hogle taught Calculus I and Modern Geometry last semester over Zoom and would often record lectures ahead of time and then have group work in class. One advantage of being virtual was the ability to work together on a digital whiteboard.
“Normally, when I put people in groups, it's very easy for them to all write on their own piece of paper, and not really look at what one another is doing,” Hogle said. “There's a lot of missed opportunities to learn from each other. And this way, everyone's metaphorically writing on the same surface.”
However, Hogle did experience some new difficulties with the inability to have students in person.
“It was definitely harder in some ways to build rapport, and especially when I was teaching freshmen,” Hogle said. “This is what Gonzaga is for them. It wasn't like taking a culture that already existed and importing it. I found myself trying to build a culture from scratch and that's a lot harder to do. I'm hoping I learned some things that will go better this semester in terms of finding ways to get them to talk to each other, inside and outside of class to build virtual community.”
Hogle hopes to improve this by assigning students buddies next semester, so they have someone to turn to with questions when they can’t physically turn to someone in class. He also plans to build in more opportunities for human connection that he normally would be able to in the classroom.
Even with these challenges, Hogle was able to experience his favorite part of teaching: watching students discover concepts for themselves.
“The philosophy of inquiry-based learning is that you want to give people a lot of room to struggle and come up with things that aren't what you would do in that situation,” Hogle said. “I found the self-restraint that it required for me to not talk to them was rewarded, because they came up with some amazing things that I never would have gotten, and it was just a real pleasure watching them.”
Computer science professor Gina Sprint taught iOS App Development and a new course, Intro to Data Science, last semester in the hybrid format. She noticed an increase in Zoom attendance as the semester went on, but some students came in person every single day.
“One [moment] that really sticks out was a student telling me at the end that he didn't miss a single day,” Sprint said. “That really touched me because he went out of his way to thank me for coming in and giving him an opportunity to learn in person because the Zoom learning works for some, but not all students.”
Sprint too had her fair share of technology issues, particularly one day when her laptop crashed. She now brings two laptops to class just in case.
“I had about 18 students on Zoom who I was just gone for,” Sprint said. “I didn't know what to do. That was memorable. We recovered pretty quickly, but it’s just something you'd never think of.”
The benefit of the hybrid learning routine, Sprint believes, is that it reminds us of a more regular time. She also recommends for their well-being that students consider trying blue light blocking glasses for the computer and making sure to take time for themselves.
“Prioritize yourself above your grades,” Sprint said. “Gonzaga students are notorious for saying ‘I have to get an A, I have to get a 4.0.’ No one's going to look back on the pandemic and think, ‘Oh, I wish I would have got a 4.0 instead of a 3.9.’ They're going to look back and say, 'You know, I wish I would have signed up for that race, that virtual run with my family or I wish I would have gone out to the mountains more.’”
Caitlin Relvas is a staff writer.