Life goes on as students and faculty adjust to the University of New Mexico’s hybrid semester, performing small group discussions in Zoom breakout rooms and submitting assignments from the comfort of their own bedrooms.
While technological issues and network timeouts may plague students’ academic experience, on the other end of the screen, professors are also having their fair share of remote learning-based woes.
Professors were given a few weeks to tailor curriculum to a virtual format last March, when the University officially shut down in response to COVID-19 cases reaching New Mexico. Instructors utilized the following summer months as an opportunity to finesse online instruction for the upcoming semester.
Lisa Whalen, a lecturer of organic chemistry and coordinator of its corresponding labs, said she fine-tuned her methods over the summer to focus on addressing and mitigating student anxiety.
“I started thinking a lot more about what students are going through once I had a plan, so I tried to incorporate more student engagement in my class,” Whalen said.
However, Whalen emphasized the fluid nature of the semester’s progression, as some of her course sections may need to shift from face-to-face instruction to being fully online. Previously, her lecture classes had been in-person, but after low attendance in one class, Whalen is considering transferring it to Zoom.
Whalen’s labs are completely face-to-face, in which students work on experiments individually while wearing masks and entering the building in small groups. Only students with accomodations from the Accessibility Resource Center are exempt.
According to Whalen, over 700 faculty members participated in summer training provided by the Center for Teaching Excellence and supported by University administration, and they were informed in May of the upcoming hybrid semester.
Michael Rocca, who is currently teaching a survey course on American politics in addition to a graduate seminar, said he spent the summer tinkering with his new office space, which included purchasing a DSLR camera and a separate computer monitor.
“I give UNM President Garnett Stokes, the deans, the provost and the administration credit for sending us signals early on that we would go online,” Rocca said. “I also give credit to the IT department for compiling tutorials and training faculty to use Learn the best they can.”
Rocca said one of the most frustrating aspects of remote instruction is the online semester coinciding with a presidential election.
“Being in an online environment can’t come close to replicating the excitement that an in-person class gives to me and my students,” Rocca said.
Rocca said he chose a remote arranged format to accommodate students living in rural areas who might not have the internet connection needed to log onto class.
Providing online resources such as informational video clips and interactive graphics, as well as an increase in students visiting Rocca’s office hours are some benefits of the online system.
Marissa Greenberg, who teaches an undergraduate course in early Shakespeare and a graduate course, has taught online courses in the past and thus supported her colleagues for whom technology appeared alien.
“Last semester, I was communicating with colleagues what the priorities are: supporting students, finishing the semester healthy and not expecting to become masters of this new environment,” she said. “It’s like walking in high heels. We all know how to walk, but if we’ve never worn three inch stilettos, the goal is to get from the car to the party in one piece. Now our priority is to walk well.”
Despite Greenberg’s increased experience, she described notable changes between a normal online course versus a pandemic-induced one — especially as a parent.
“I have to do my teaching prep and implementation of teaching, while researching and writing, while also making lunch or dealing with a fight that has broken out over a video game, while also ensuring a kid gets out of pajamas and in the showers more than once a week,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg said a benefit of working from home is the newfound ability to humanize herself by giving students glimpses of her life.
When asked what they would like students to know or act upon to make the hybrid semester simpler, each professor had a piece of advice.
“We don't have the ability to make infinite exceptions to our course policies, because we are already stretched,” Whalen said.“Keep your integrity, and don’t get to a place where you feel like you have to cheat. Care about learning, not about the grade.”
Rocca expressed a desire for students to be patient during the inevitable obstacles of virtual learning.
“I haven’t been this nervous for the first day of class in 15 years. I usually get butterflies walking into my first day of class, but I was a nervous wreck when my Learn page went live on Monday,” he said. “I and my colleagues are working hard, and we want to deliver the most organized and engaging content we can. ”
Greenberg emphasized communication and empathy as key tools for the semester.
“I would like (students) to know this change is as, if not more, disruptive for faculty as it is for them. We have trained to do what we do in one modality, and now we have to re-learn everything,” Greenberg said. “I’d encourage them to be kind.”
“The more compassion and the more we can see each other as human beings, the better off we will be when this thing comes to an end.”
Beatrice Nisoli is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli