Professors learn online classes

By Christian Loeffler

Duennes shows students how to find insects and other macroinvertebrates in a stream at Frick Park via a YouTube upload. (Source: Duennes)

From the sciences to the arts, professors from various disciplines are still in the transition phase from physical to online classes, figuring out schedules, methods of instruction, and communication changes alongside students.

“So far, I have just been requiring people to watch videos online. So, I started a YouTube channel,” explained Michelle Duennes, assistant professor of biology.

Duennes said that she never had to teach a class online before and that she had to give herself a “fast crash course in distance learning” over the weekend following dismissal from classes.

“It's really hard to do synchronous learning where everyone is online at the same time because of technology issues that almost always crop up or, maybe some people, now that they're home, they can't come during the class times they could when we were all on campus,” said Duennes.

Duennes explained that her General Biology lectures have been in video form, the notes for PowerPoint presentations have been made available online, and her class period times have become online office hours to check in with students and see whether they comprehend the material.

Regarding exams, Duennes said that there is a screen monitoring program on Schoology, but that she will be making the remainder of exams for the semester open-note with a time limit.

"This can be a good time to not only reevaluate our current teaching and learning styles, but also be creative in how we roll with the punches and still complete our work while striving to continue to have an enriching and fulfilling college experience." - Joseph Materkowski

"If it's open-note, then you still have to study for it because if you have to look up the answer to every single question, you are not going to finish it in time,” she explained.

Duennes further suggested that methods of instruction may change over the course of time for both her classes and her labs. Science labs, while not in-person, are still occurring, she said.

“We are going to fabricate some data that students can then use to write up reports,” explained Duennes.

Alongside supplemental materials, such as online quizzes to help students study, Duennes said she has also posted videos that explain and demonstrate the techniques that would have been used in lab.

“I'm trying to run experiments in my backyard and videotape them and see if that works," she stated. “So, I was going to have a forensic entomology lab where you use insects that you find on a dead body to help time the date of death.”

Duennes stated that it was difficult to make videos at first because she was in a room alone without an audience, making it hard for her “crazy” teaching personality to shine through.

Duennes introduces insects into her home as biohazard control to reduce a pest problem and then uploads it to YouTube to teach students. (Source: Duennes)

“The hardest part for me is just figuring out how I am going to do it at all because I've never taught an online class before in my life […] but mostly, it's trying to stay connected with the students when I still have kind of no idea what is going to work,” said Duennes.

Fortunately, for science students completing senior research, physical research is complete by this point in the semester, and juniors are only preparing proposals, explained Duennes. Science seniors cannot present works at the academic conference, but they can still present research to peers and professors via online conference.

"A lot of students were really upset by the closing of campus, […] especially the seniors because this is how their semester is going to end; their last semester in college is that they are going to be at home and I just can't imagine what that feels like. It must be so sad,” Duennes stated.

Joseph Materkowski, adjunct Lecturer of Visual Arts, explained how he planned to handle his art classes Painting I, Painting II, and Drawing I.

“I have migrated all course material to Schoology where I am currently posting a video lecture and demonstration series I have been recently recording for my classes,” he stated. “I am having students send photos of their works-in-progress for individual critiques, and I plan to set up open discussion forums for group critiques of finished work.”

According to Materkowski, Saint Vincent supplies a large portion of the students’ materials for each art class. He explained that with the sudden dismissal, not all students were able to grab materials needed for the rest of the semester.

"We really have everyone's health in mind, and we're doing the best that we can in such a weird unprecedented situation." - Michelle Duennes

“I am working closely with each student to know what materials they have, and to do my best to assure their ability to complete the assignments with their available materials,” he said.

Materkowski said that endeavors have been successful so far for both lectures and critiques. He also explained that he was fortunate enough to have already administered all exams for his courses, with final portfolios acting as the larger end-of-the-semester assignment.

Materkowski has taught online classes before, and stated that online open-note quizzes are still a great form of student assessment, but that online quizzes ask for answers with more depth than in-person quizzes.

While there will not be a typical in-person art gallery this semester for seniors and other artists, Materkowski said, there may be a positive to pull out of the situation.

"The hardest part for me is just figuring out how I am going to do it at all because I've never taught an online class before in my life." - Michelle Duennes

“This may be a perfect opportunity for students to focus more on digital means for displaying and marketing their work, employing personal websites, blogs, social media, etc. These digital/virtual platforms are equally valid ways of sharing one’s artwork, and they honestly may be superior amid our current situation,” stated Materkowski.

There could be another benefit.

“This can be a good time to not only reevaluate our current teaching and learning styles, but also be creative in how we roll with the punches and still complete our work while striving to continue to have an enriching and fulfilling college experience,” stated Materkowski.

Duennes said that she knows that everyone is stressed about the current situation.

“But all the professors, we really have everyone's health in mind, and we're doing the best that we can in such a weird unprecedented situation,” Duennes stated.

#ChristianLoeffler #Coronavirus #OnlineClass #Professors #Science #Art

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