Professors grapple with change to online, too

The campus is fairly quiet this semester, with almost all classes online. / VN photo by Devonne Mccullough


Many students are having difficulties getting used to an online schedule, but how are professors doing?

Online education is unfamiliar to some professors as well.

English assistant professor Sigrid Streit has been getting used to the new online environment.

Teaching classes in front of the camera does not feel as engaging as face-to-face classes to Streit.

“I feel like I’m talking at students not with students,” she said.

Her workshop-based classes allowed students to work with one another every session, which helped build a sense of community for a class.

Now with the switch to online it has been difficult to keep that experience the same, she said.

Professors like Mark Benvenuto have also been finding it more difficult to get to know students in an online format.

“We (professors) didn’t sign up for online,” said Benvenuto, chair of the chemistry department.

He said that the impersonality of online courses is what makes it difficult to learn more about each student.

In person, Benvenuto had an easier time seeing which students were understanding material as it was being taught and which were having trouble.

Online, it’s not possible.

For associate professor Rosemary Weatherston of the English department, putting together a class plan for online courses has been a challenge.

“I had to learn different learning platforms and technologies as well as design different activities,” Weatherston said in an email. “Having never taught online before March, it was a steep learning curve.”

Weatherston also agreed with the other professors that the online switch has made it difficult to create a sense of community.

“There is a type of community that develops when we are in each other’s presence that can’t be duplicated online,” said Weatherston.

Professors are aware of students’ common concerns and are trying to make the transition as smooth as they can.

Streit said that figuring out when to do assignments for an online class has been one issue.

Before the pandemic, students were able to complete some assignments in a face-to-face class and then do any assigned homework before the next session.

Professor Weatherston has heard similar concerns from her students as well.

“All of their classes look and feel the same and it’s hard to keep track of what is due when and stay focused,” said Weatherston.

The three professors offered some tips for students having a difficulty.

“If you have questions (or) aren’t sure about something, don't wait,” Streit said in an email. “Reach out to your professors and attend their office hours. Your professors will have the answers, but they are only able to help you if they know that you need help.”

She also recommended using a calendar or something like it to create a schedule that works for you.

Weatherston had similar advice.

“If one person is not helpful, please don’t give up – try someone else,” said Weatherston.

When it comes to assignments for online courses, Benvenuto recommended tackling assignments that might take longer first instead of ones you find less challenging.

That way the more difficult assignment is not saved for last with little time left to do it.

Weatherston offered encouraging words.

“The fact that (students) are attempting to focus and do their best work in the middle of a global pandemic, extensive racial violence, a contested and high stakes election and civic protests needs to be acknowledged,” said Weatherston. “I think these aren’t so much complaints as very real challenges.”