Professors and students make adjustment to online courses during COVID-19 pandemic

St. Thomas University sent an email to students and teachers on March 13 informing them in-person classes would no longer take place for the remainder of the semester due to COVID-19 precautions. Heather MacLean, a part-time communications professor at STU, is one of many professors who has moved their courses online. She said the biggest concern for herself is engaging with her students.

“I really enjoy the engagement with my students and I love when they have the ‘aha’ moments. I love when they get really interested and fascinated with something. So I want to continue that engagement,” MacLean said.

Many professors have turned to Zoom, an online video conference app, or are putting their class PowerPoints online. MacLean has taken a different approach. She has decided to use something she’s more familiar with, GoToWebinar, a tool that allows her to keep her students engaged by creating polls and surveys.

The app also has a question box where students can leave questions during the class and the professor can answer them live. She said since she has experience with GoToWebinar, it has made the adjustment easier.

Other professors, such as STU French professor Julien Defraye, decided to use PowerPoint so his students wouldn’t have to adjust to a new system. He said it was important for students to still be able to get the material they need from their courses.

“I still wanted students to make the most of this term so I kept the online format as close to what we do in class as possible,” Defraye said.

Still, the switch has forced him to make some modifications to the workload of his course, with assignments being changed to take-home exams. He has also started forums for his students to discuss and debate certain topics.

“Part of what I teach is language and debating and sharing about literature,” he said.

“It proves to be very difficult to integrate these two aspects online so cuts have unfortunately been made where needed.”

For students such as Carter Scott, a third-year student double-majoring in English and Great Books, the switch hasn’t been all too kind.

All six of Scott’s current courses have gone online. He said some courses have been easier to adjust to than others, such as one where the professor uploads their classes to YouTube every day.

But one of his courses, a seminar, is done through the website Moodle. He said it’s not the most efficient.

“It’s pretty bad,” Scott said. “We’re doing full classes in a chat group on Moodle and working with forums which seems counterproductive to the normal in-person conversation that we normally do.”

Scott said the seminar, usually a three-hour class, only got about an hour’s worth of material covered between classmates typing and thinking out their responses. He said there could have been something better set up, instead of rushing the process.

He said there should have been an alternative already set aside for students who may be going through a situation, such as a dentist appointment, which forces them to miss class time, rather than rushing to set something up in a panic.

Scott has found himself with more stress added on top of the global pandemic. He said lots of things seem to still be in the air.

“It’s definitely a huge learning curve to the students and the professors.”

Scott also expressed his displeasure with one of the most recent STU emails sent out to students stating deadlines still must be met.

“It lacked a certain empathy to people going through certain situations.”

Scott considers himself fortunate because he lives in Fredericton and his family in Hampton isn’t too far away. But for most, this isn’t the case.

“I’ve been helping people go through their situations that are a lot worse. For this email to come up from our institution, just kind of slapping our hands and saying, ‘you’re not doing enough’ is a little odd.”

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