Up the stairs of her two-story apartment, tucked away on the side wall of her bedroom, is where Christine Savoie will have her office and classroom space for at least the next two months. Made up of a small, white fold out table with a printer, laptop, and a couple of personal photographs, she will be learning and working for the rest of her spring semester after her university made the decision to switch to remote instruction.
The scene feels familiar for many as universities across the United States moved to online instruction amid concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus. Many professors and students like Savoie, who is a graduate assistant, are learning to adjust to this new scenario of online-only instruction.
Students and faculty at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette began adapting since March 13 to the new scenario of online learning.
This “new abnormal,” as professor William Davie, Ph.D. called it, consists of using both new and old online tools to help teach the same course material through online avenues.
Some professors, like Davie, are relying on tools that students are already familiar with, such as Moodle, an open source class management system the university already uses. Davie said he plans to post additional announcements on the platform for his class and relies heavily on email for communication and submission of assignments.
Other professors are working on learning new tools for their online transition. August Gallo, Ph.D., a chemistry professor, said he started to learn applications like Zoom and Skype for videoing live classroom lectures and Panopto for recording videos and screen casting slide presentations.
Learning the new tools was not easy for Gallo, who has been at the university for over 30 years.
“It was very stressful for myself because I had to learn quite a bit. The learning curve was quite steep,” Gallo said.
Gallo said his classes meet via Zoom for their lectures at their original class times, and rather than having students do lab work, he is trying to prepare videos and voice recordings to supplement their lectures.
Since students and professors do not have face-to-face interactions, it is hard to gauge whether students understand the class material, according to Gallo.
Yet Davie said he received a lot more feedback from students on written engagements through email than he did through verbal in-class communication, allowing him to see more of his students’ abilities.
Both professors agreed there are positives associated with the switch to online learning. Davie and Gallo think some of the new techniques will be useful in the future.
“Just because I was doing face-to-face traditionally, I’ve always said lectures aren’t always the best way. Now that I’m trained in it, I think I will keep incorporating these methods,” Gallo said.
For students, the switch to online requires more self-discipline and motivation, according to undergraduate student and animation major Katherine Surek.
Surek’s new daily routine involves checking her email constantly throughout her day to make sure she is staying up to date on class information.
Many of her classes were an easy transition to online learning, except for her sculpture class. The class was previously hands-on and involved learning many of the large metal working machines that located in the art department on campus.
Since she is unable to use these and other sculpture tools, her professor decided to provide them with a sculpture care package, including many materials that are useful for the class, so students did not have to go out and buy them.
Surek’s care package provided by her sculpture professor
Surek said professors who step up and provide guidance like hers are what helps to prevent stress levels during a time like this. She said she was originally stressed about switching class setups in the middle of the spring semester but feels at ease due to the structure she was provided.
For Savoie, being both a graduate student and assistant has made the transition even harder.
“At the beginning it was really stressful because not only am I worried about myself but also the 85 students I’m a teaching assistant for,” said Savoie.
Another challenge for Savoie is distancing from her fellow graduate students that she has formed close bonds with. She is graduating soon and realized she may not see some of her colleagues again.
Savoie said she is grateful that through all of this, students, professors and university officials now know that online school is possible in the event of a disaster.
“It proves that you can still work and still go to school. We have the resources to be able to do this,” said Savoie.