Professors online

Professors are finding it difficult to connect with students during a pandemic.

The beginning of the University of Georgia’s spring semester has granted students, along with faculty, a variety of class formats to choose from as one can learn online or face-to-face.

Ervan Garrison, a professor in the department of anthropology, has been labeled by UGA as an “accommodated” teacher. All his courses since March have been entirely taught synchronously online, which means students log onto Zoom during the designated class time.

Garrison says he continues to identify new ways to creatively deliver content that is tailored to his students’ interests. Teaching online has required a great deal of “retooling,” particularly with lab components, Garrison said.

Douda Bensasson, an assistant professor in the department of plant biology, has chosen a similar instruction format as Garrison’s, the online synchronous format. Zoom allows Bensasson to see the faces of her students without masks while still socially distancing.

“It’s actually not very different from in-person: I don’t need to physically touch students to teach. It helps to see their faces,” Bensasson said. “Some aspects are better with Zoom — many students are more confident speaking up in a chat. They can say more. They can find their best words.”

Benasson said some students benefit from the self-paced asynchronous option, where professors upload pre-recorded lectures and content on eLearning Commons for students to work through at their own speed. With this format, students have the option to replay and pause lectures. They also have the ability to complete class material at their own preferred speed, or use the posted material online as a tool to study.

Michael Adjemian, a professor in the department of agriculture and applied economics, prefers to teach in person but has chosen to implement a hybrid asynchronous format in all of his classes. The challenge that the hybrid asynchronous format presents is adequately assuring students on Zoom are engaged and able to receive the same learning experience as students attending classes in-person, Adjemian said.

“I prefer if the students can actually join me during the class period, but I do record every lecture and post it on eLC,” Adjemian said. “A couple of my grad students are actually stuck overseas. They can’t make it back to the country yet, and so that is the only way they are able to actually attend lectures.”

Participation and feedback is another challenge that professors have to overcome as they lecture students via Zoom. According to economics professor Roozbeh Hosseini, it is impossible to “read the room” when students log onto Zoom with their cameras and audio turned off.

“When I teach in person, I can look at students’ faces and tell if everyone is with me or someone is lost. So, I can adapt, adjust, go back, take a break, etc. With the current mode of teaching that is impossible,” Hosseini said.

Finding an effective and accurate medium in which professors are able to conduct exams, tests and quizzes has been yet another challenge of online learning. Lockdown browsers have presented both problems with handling large groups of students simultaneously logging in on the same browser, and with falsely flagging students as cheating, said Tom Bramorski, a professor in Terry College of Business’ management department.

UGA offered informative training courses to faculty who want to become more comfortable with developing content online. Moreover, eLC has made it easier for faculty to monitor student’s participation, Bramorski said.

Conducting classes online has allowed content to be delivered “anytime, anywhere,” Bramorski said. Online delivery of class material has presented flexibility for both students and faculty.

“UGA is best when face-to-face both for students and instructors. Online has merits that I would not have known about but for the pandemic,” Garrison said. “When I go back to a real classroom — next fall, we hope — I will continue to use things I have learned [while] being online.”