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Professors reflect on the benefits, the drawbacks and the newfound skills of teaching online courses

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Sam Ford/The Review
With in-person classes on the horizon for the Fall 2021 semester, professors reflected on their experiences teaching virtually.

BY
Senior Reporter

With in-person classes on the horizon for the Fall 2021 semester, professors reflected on their experiences teaching virtually. Dr. Jennifer Trivedi, an assistant professor in the anthropology department who currently teaches an asynchronous anthropology course, explained some of the challenges of online learning. 

“It’s hard,” Trivedi said. “Even in my big lecture classes … I like to interact with my students and have them discuss things and put things on the board sometimes. I still do a lot of [lecturing] in those classes because there are so many students, but there are moments of interaction in different ways. And you lose that in [an] asynchronous setting. There’s just no practical way to have 150 students in a Zoom call.”

Large lecture courses such as the one Trivedi teaches were made to be automatically asynchronous, based on the number of students. Trivedi said she understands the logic behind it but explained that the interaction between her and students — and between students themselves — is lost.

From Trivedi’s experience, she said she feels as though asynchronous courses are not a priority for students in the same way that in-person courses are.

“I think that for a lot of students, asynchronous courses fall to the bottom of the list, and I don’t mean that judgmentally in any way shape or form,” Trivedi said. “I totally understand why, because if … you have to be in-person or on Zoom at a certain time, obviously that’s going to be on your calendar; you know you have to go. That’s a different kind of schedule commitment than an asynchronous class that you can kind of fit in anywhere.”

However, Trivedi said there are a few benefits to an asynchronous course, such as the ability for a student to work at their own pace, accessibility for students with access to the internet and rewatching recorded lectures.

“I think in terms of day-to-day pacing, there’s always a concept or a lecture … that, for whatever reason, doesn’t click,” Trivedi said. “The great benefit about asynchronous classes is that it’s there; it’s recorded. If that’s the lecture that’s not clicking for you, you could stop, rewind it and watch it again.”

Trivedi said that she has learned a lot of new concepts through this experience, and she will carry some of them over with her when she returns to in-person teaching. She mentioned that she has started creating self-assessment quizzes, which do not count towards students’ grades, for them to assess how they are doing so far in the course. Trivedi has also thought about the possibility of creating a condensed, asynchronous version of the course for students who cannot be on campus during winter session.

“It’s interesting; every semester we’ve been going through this, I’ve been teaching both a synchronous small class and a large asynchronous class,” Trivedi said. “I think it’s pushed my teaching in new directions; it’s made me think of things differently, and I think that even as we start to go back into live, in-person classes; I’m going to take some of that with me. I’m going to take some of those lessons, some of those approaches to thinking about things, approaching lectures a little bit differently for certain concepts or things that really worked for students in online spaces.”

Dr. Laura Salsini, an Italian professor, also reflected on some of the hardships of online learning. Specifically, Salsini explained that learning a new language is especially difficult for beginners due to lag, pronunciation and sound.

“I think for the earlier beginning levels … when students are just learning how to pronounce different words in a foreign language, it helps to be in-person because, one, you don’t get the lag that you often get on Zoom, and two, I think you can hear sounds better; the pronunciation is clearer, [and] more distinct,” Salsini said.

According to Salsini, when she asked her students if there were any benefits to online learning, they could not come up with an answer. However, Salsini said she thinks accessibility is an advantage.

“I asked my students this in class today, and not one student could come up with a benefit,” Salsini said. “The only benefit that I could see is that it does allow for non-traditional students to participate in a class. I have several students who would not be able to take courses at UD because they don’t live here, but because they can join via Zoom, they are able to participate fully and are actually wonderful additions to the course. But that’s only because we’re not meeting in-person.”

Some aspects of online learning Salsini said she will take with her moving forward are newfound technical skills, the potential of Canvas and compassion for students.

“I think we’ll take a few things with us,” Salsini said. “I think we’re all much more tech savvy, whether it’s using Zoom or some of the enhanced capabilities of Canvas, but I think, too, we’ve all discovered that an integral part of learning and teaching is compassion. And we’ve all learned in the past year, when so many of our students are struggling, whether it’s academically, intellectually, socially, emotionally, that compassion plays a really important role in the classroom, and I hope to take that with me as we move …  back into in-person meetings.”

Kimberly Schroeder, an assistant professor in the theatre department, currently teaches dance through Zoom, and spoke about some of the challenges that come with it.

“Probably, the number one challenge, I would say, is [that] dance is a three-dimensional art form, so even when you’re learning studio-based dance, being in the room to be able to see every aspect in that three dimensional sense is the number one priority when teaching someone dance training, but, computers are two-dimensional, right?” Schroeder said. “So, film being two-dimensional, [and] having to translate three dimensional movement into a two-dimensional face is a rather big challenge.”

According to Schroeder, technical challenges with Zoom make teaching dance even more difficult, such as lag, sound and internet connection.

“When you add the layers of Zoom and lag time with video, when dance, most of the time, is set to music and is in rhythmic phrases to add a certain tempo, keeping the beat strong and connected through Zoom is challenging because, depending on your students’ wifi connection, or even your own wifi connection, that doesn’t always match up,” Schroeder said.

However, Schroeder also noted that students seem to be grateful to have the opportunity to dance, even if it is through Zoom.

“My students, throughout this entire time, have been grateful to be able to have some sort of movement experience while being online, because it’s not sitting and listening to lecture, so they’ve appreciated that, and some have even sought out that experience,” Schroeder said. “Which is surprising to me because being a dancer, the toll that it’s taken on me personally to not be in the room with other dancers has been really difficult and really sad, and I’m glad we have this way of doing it through Zoom together. But it certainly doesn’t replace that studio experience.”

In terms of the advantages of teaching dance virtually ,Schroeder said she found different and newer ways to interact with students, which she views as a benefit.

“I continue to find more and more benefits,” Schroeder said. “I mean, for me, personally as a teacher, I have found new ways to communicate what I want my students to do, because I’ve had to rely on more than just demonstrating in the studio with them.”

One aspect of this experience that Schroeder said she will take with her is the ability to utilize the full potential of Canvas.

“In the studio, I’ve really embraced using Canvas and all that Canvas has to offer in terms of recording myself performing the combination from different viewpoints and then making that instantly accessible to my students,” Schroeder said. “I think that would be a really useful tool when we do move back in-person.”

Overall, Schroeder said that she and the entire dance community have continued to turn negatives into positives during this online experience, which she has enjoyed seeing and experiencing.

“What I will say about the dance community is that … dancers adapt,” Schroeder said. “Dancers have always had to adapt and be flexible, in more ways than just your physical sense, and the creativity that we’ve been able to utilise in this environment has helped see the drawbacks and turn them into positive outcomes, and that’s been a really beautiful thing to see.”

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