I’m one of thousands of students across the country taking online classes in their hometown bedroom instead of walking across campus.
At the University of Missouri, like most colleges, we used a lot of online resources as we began to make the switch to remote learning. Almost every class uses the Canvas learning management system for an online portion of the course, where the professor can choose to put assignments, grades and more.
Missouri had already announced a temporary online class schedule ahead of our planned spring break, meaning some students left campus early. Sitting in our dorm room, two of my friends and I were among the last people to leave after getting the first e-learning announcement. But when we got our second notice saying that remote learning would be the norm for the rest of the semester, all the questions came. How would finals work? Do our teachers know what’s going on? What is Zoom?
My first reaction was that I felt I was always lacking information. For every email, three more questions popped up. But one key understanding emerged: We were going to have to get used to videoconferencing, and fast.
College Instruction Thrives with Zoom
I’ve completed just over a month of online classes, using a mix of resources. Most days, at 9 a.m., I click a link to join a Zoom meeting for my French class. In person, we run into a lot of technical difficulties during this class — things like faulty projectors or uncoordinated online quizzes — and honestly, Zoom works better. However, I think most of my class would agree that it is much harder to participate and learn when the class is being held through a screen. One perk of Zoom you might not be aware of: You can split the class into small groups to work separately.
I’ve also used Zoom for a lecture class, which has been easier than using it for discussion-based classes. Other than it being harder to ask questions, there's little difference between in-person and online lectures. Our professor shares his screen through Zoom, so we are able to view the presentation and then listen to his lecture simultaneously. Zoom also allows you to ask questions in a “chat” section, making it easier for students to participate without social interaction.
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Other teachers are avoiding Zoom. Some are filming lectures on Panopto, which according to its website is a “video platform that helps businesses and universities improve the way that they train, teach and share knowledge.” I find Panopto videos very useful for introducing a topic and note-taking. They are a good precursor for Zoom discussions or discussion posts on Canvas. However, now that teachers at the University of Missouri are being asked to work from home, they can’t use whiteboards as they would have been if they were working from their regular office.
Making the Most of Remote Learning Challenges
So, we’ve been presented with plenty of resources. Besides the fact that displacement is an issue, students should, for the most part, be able to do their classes. However, some professors are more, well, technologically advanced than others.
One of the biggest problems I’ve run into is practice quizzes or assignments being posted in different streams on Canvas. We can’t find our assignments all in one place and have to check every stream before deciding we’ve finished our work. This might seem like a minor problem, but many streams and tabs don’t alert the student when a new post is available, and some don’t even present a new post until previous posts are deleted by the owner. Late work is inevitable in this situation. My hope is that teachers are able to consolidate resources and have a much more organized class.
I’ve also felt that communication has been problematic and lacking throughout much of this shift to remote learning. Many professors don’t know what to tell students, coordinators don’t know what to tell professors, and students don’t know who to ask about anything. If there were a specified place for everyone to go to communicate, things might go a lot more smoothly. This might exist, but no one has put much work into advertising it if it does.
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Many classes use GroupMe, a group messaging app, to talk about the class and share questions with fellow students. If something like this were used to include the entire course, including professors and coordinators and every student in the course, it would be easier to get information out to everyone without waiting for it to trickle down the grapevine. Even an email chain straight from the class coordinator would be sufficient, at least for getting information from teachers to students. Speaking for myself, I rarely get information from coordinators and am often told by professors that they have to ask the coordinator my question before getting back to me.
Hopefully, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone involved. And whether we like the changes or not, everyone is learning — students and teachers. I’m confident in the abilities of teaching professionals all over, and I know we have the technology to continue learning at the level we were before.