OXFORD, Mississippi — As everyone adjusts to a new normal while trying to stay safe amid COVID-19, professors at the University of Mississippi are going above and beyond to provide uninterrupted lessons, but in an online format to keep students engaged and, most importantly, safe.
“I am pleased that our semester is back on track in this new teaching and learning format,” said Noel Wilkin, UM Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. “We have come to this point through the hard work and dedication of our faculty and staff, amidst a changing landscape of operations and changing dynamics in their own lives.
“This is a great change for our students as well. Our faculty and staff have developed a Keep Learning website to help provide the resources students may need. I am confident that our academic community will continue to support each other during this difficult time.
Two of the university’s most experienced online professors say their best advice is for educators to breathe, think of their students, and then use one technology at a time. Here’s what else they had to say:
- Remember why we are here
“My advice is to be community-oriented,” said Patricia O’Sullivan, a lecturer in pharmaceutical administration. “If you can keep the class together as a unit — if you can keep the students engaged with you and talking to each other — that’s the best way to get through this.”
O’Sullivan has been teaching online since 2004. Her current course, PHAD 395: Pharmacy Ethics, is one in which she incorporates online teaching, even into sections previously taught face-to-face.
O’Sullivan said he was reminded of how important this community is when a student who struggled to attend classes in person began to engage extensively once he went online this week.
“She’s been texting me about how this situation is affecting her personally, and we’re talking about the ethics of it all,” she said. “I think she’s a child who could have retired, but now she’s really engaged.”
This student is not the only one to get involved. The university reported 14,500 unique Blackboard logins on Monday, March 23, well over half of the campus population. Given that some classes aren’t even listed on Blackboard, the numbers suggest students may be as engaged, if not more, as they seek normality in uncertain times.
- Start with what you and your students know
“I like to read about different tools and experiment in order to better understand them, but that doesn’t mean I add all the technology to my course,” said Katerina Berezina, assistant professor of nutrition and hotel management. “I’m thinking about the student and the technology they already have so they don’t have to learn a new tool just because it’s available or fancy.”
Berezina has been teaching online since 2014 and offers its Hotel Technology course online. She advised professors to start with technology that students have access to, like Blackboard and Google.
“Blackboard gives you many tools for communicating and distributing your video conferences and files,” she said. “In addition to this, students have university email accounts through Google. This comes with G Suite, which gives you many useful collaboration tools for remote and online learning.”
“I asked my students where they wanted to have our talks, and they all come back and ask to please stay at Blackboard,” she said. “It’s the familiar thing and they’re already connected. Now is not the time to learn a new tool. Our bandwidth is already saturated.
While most people use Google for messaging services, few realize that there are tools for secure chat, video conferencing, cloud storage, spreadsheet, word processing, form building, presentation and digital whiteboard.
“Don’t use technology for technology’s sake,” Berezina said. “Think about what you want to do and use technology that makes it easier for your students to learn in that way.”
- Shorter is better
Berezina said she had to update her lesson information regularly, and after the first few years of teaching, she was tired of re-recording an entire hour-long video. She went from one video lecture per segment to recording many shorter lectures.
“I decided to imitate my classroom environment, but adapt to the Internet,” she said. “I open the class with a question, so the online tool for that is a discussion forum.
“Then I give a conference, but a mini-conference. Then I give them an exercise so the students can practice the calculations I just taught them.
She orders her homework on the blackboard like she would in class so students don’t have to attend an hour-long lecture before interacting with the material. And it’s much easier for her to update a five-minute video than an hour-long video.
“Later I learned it was also good for minimizing cognitive loads so students could process information in smaller chunks,” she said. “Overall, I think online teaching has helped me develop better instruction, even in my face-to-face classes, and I think I’m developing good teaching practices.”
- Adopt multimedia
O’Sullivan started her online classes using primarily text-based resources, but said she saw better engagement when she started incorporating images, videos, audio and other interactive resources from Internet.
“We don’t talk about learning styles anymore because that’s a debunked theory, but it’s still true that we have preferences,” O’Sullivan said. “I love listening to stuff, especially podcasts.”
Students who have approached a topic in multiple ways are more likely to pick it up, especially if they have to turn around and discuss it with the rest of the class via tools like Zoom or Blackboard message boards. It also gives students the opportunity to use the material in the way they prefer.
“I think it’s OK to straddle the material,” she said. “If they read a chapter on Buddhism, it’s OK to have a podcast interview with a Buddhist and a video of a religious ceremony. It’s good to get stronger with multimodal delivery.
- Meet the moment
Finding ways to keep teaching students is an effort to bring normalcy back into their lives, but that doesn’t mean teachers should avoid the elephant in the room. This is an opportunity to provide concrete examples in teaching.
“I teach pharmacy ethics, so my class is tailor-made for this crisis, but anyone can meet the moment,” O’Sullivan said. “If I was teaching early 20th century literature, I would be reading letters and literature about the 1918 flu (pandemic) right now.
“Every class on campus could adjust their curriculum to talk about it — biology, chemistry, philosophy, history.”
Berezina echoed that sentiment, saying employees in the hospitality and restaurant industries are all trying to figure out how to continue to serve customers and keep their business afloat amid the crisis, and most of them also do it online.
- Practical for the real world
Self-motivation and online collaboration are not just skills to use in this crisis, but skills students need to learn for the ever-changing global landscape of the hospitality industry, Berezina said.
“Even when we are in normal conditions, these are valuable skills because many industries distribute themselves,” she said. “Think of any international hotel chains or international restaurant chains – even the smaller chains that operate in one state, like Mississippi.
“You can’t drive from Oxford to Jackson every day, but you can check in using Zoom.”
Berezina said she requires the same level of group participation from her online classes and her in-person classes for this very reason. His students need to learn these skills online whether or not there is an outbreak.
When online students complete their course, Berezina sends them a list of additional skills they may not have realized they can include on their resume, such as online collaboration and video recording.
- be graceful
Both teachers agree that finding a way to meet students technologically and academically where they are is the most helpful thing professors can do as students grapple with fear and anxiety in one go. uncertain period.
Berezina said she learned to spend more time making sure her instructions and expectations were clear, because it’s not as easy for students to raise their hands and ask questions.
Along with clear communication, it’s important to give students a bit more autonomy in these times, O’Sullivan said.
“Being caring means being sensitive to the new situation of students,” he said. “Some students have children at home with them. Some are in a different time zone, which makes your scheduled Zoom meeting difficult for them. And probably all of them are experiencing some kind of stress.
The university strives to ensure that students and faculty have all possible resources to finish the semester strong and maintain continuity of learning and a level of academic rigor. These tips and resources are available on the Keep Learning webpage, as well as the Keep Teaching site.