Impressions of Teaching Online

My current life’s work is shared between two part time jobs. You may have seen me as a Library Assistant at the Dillsburg Area Public Library, but during the school year I am also an adjunct instructor in Computer and Information Science at Messiah College.

On March 13, we were advised to inform our students leaving for Spring Break to take home anything they might need to continue their school work from there. The COVID-19 virus was just started to work its way into Pennsylvania and precautionary plans were being put in place.

Over the next few days, we were ordered to move our course instruction materials online and prepare to continue classes in an online mode as of March 25. When confronted with the technical challenges that might present, my Department Chair advised us “We are the CIS Department. We have to be able to do this!”

Our school has used a robust Learning Management System called Canvas for many years. This is hosting software that can include PowerPoint lectures, Quizzes, Assignments, videos, and any data files needed to support course instruction. When fully utilized, Canvas lends itself quite easily to an online learning environment, as all assignments can be designed to be submitted online. So, our students were already accustomed to using this system supplemented by class lectures and labs.

However, the home technical environments proved to be quite different from the uniform classroom labs I use to teach subjects like Excel and web design. I found that half of my students would be designing web sites using Mac laptops, with some different tools than I was used to seeing on PC’s. And some of the Excel class didn’t have the proper version of Excel, or had been sharing textbooks and now had to come up with their own. We worked through all of these things together and managed to find ways to get through them, sometimes in one-on-one Zoom sessions.

We all became quite familiar with Zoom over the last two months. Faculty were given business Zoom accounts and used these regularly to convene classes. I scheduled student teams in one class to make weekly presentations, and we recorded these so that students in different time zones could also view what went on in class without getting up at 3 am to attend.

Though there were technical issues to overcome, the bigger issues I found were behavioral. Some of the students had difficulty adjusting to trying to schedule their time when not restricted to classroom hours. Some were actually dealing with parents or friends who were ill with the virus. There were a few international students were not able to go home to their countries in Malaysia and China because the U.S. travelers were banned from entering their countries. One of my Malaysian students finally made it home after Easter, only to be quarantined there for two weeks before he could even travel back to be with his family.

Spring semester 2020 has ended now. I am deeply sorry for those graduating seniors who did not get to spend their final semester on campus. As I said to my students in our final Zoom class, we will probably remember this time for the rest of our lives. I hope I had a part in making it better for some of them.

Bev Motich