With Binghamton University classes abruptly transitioning to an online format, many professors have encountered difficulties posed by varying class sizes and course structures, while some are seeing direct benefits.
In order for the semester to be completed remotely, the University gave all professors and students access to online teaching programs such as Zoom, an online video conference option that allows users to connect to classes with their professors live, and Panopto, a platform that enables professors to record their lectures and post them online for their classes to view at any time.
Rachel Samiani, an adjunct lecturer of romance languages and literatures, said using the online programs for lectures with a small student-to-faculty ratio has made it easier to connect with all of her students.
“I have been sure to always do a mental health check at the start of each of my classes,” Samiani said. “I have tried to allow for as much group collaboration as possible so that students will remember they have many people to talk to.”
But for others, the transition to online courses has posed significant challenges. Badreddine Ben Othman, a teaching assistant of comparative literature, said the online format has made it more difficult to teach his Arabic language course. According to Othman, reliance on platforms such as Zoom has made it difficult for students to access non-English keyboards, posing barriers to assessing writing skills and ensuring students are understanding concepts.
“Speaking, writing and listening skills are hard to cover in the one hour we meet for,” he said. “Writing was easier to assess in the classical classroom format. I believe most of my students don’t have an Arabic keyboard or are not used to using them, so I’m still trying to find ways to practice writing over Zoom.”
Some departments are experiencing more difficulties than others. Roberta Crawford, an adjunct lecturer of music, wrote in an email that performing in a quartet or giving individual lessons to students can be difficult as her home studio, a small room equipped for one-on-one teaching, has a weak Internet connection.
“At home, my internet connection to my teaching studio is not strong,” Crawford wrote. “I’m needing to purchase and install equipment that makes the connection to my teaching studio stronger.”
James Hundley, program coordinator for the global studies minor and an adjunct assistant professor of anthropology, wrote in an email he has also experienced technical issues on Zoom.
“I tried sharing a video and only half the class or less could hear the sound, so I’ll have to fix that issue for the future,” Hundley wrote.
For large lectures, Hundley said Zoom has been easy to use, but he gets less time to talk with students on it.
“It’s a little less interactive than my usual lecture style where I pace back and forth and try to interact with the 50 students in the class, but Zoom does allow me to lecture in real time,” Hundley wrote. “Taking questions from students is a little more difficult because I can’t always see when a chat bubble pops up when screen sharing.”
Ann Merriwether, an instructor of psychology, is using Panopto to record her lectures and Zoom for her smaller seminar courses. She said asynchronous learning, when students learn the material on their own time using prerecorded videos, is a more efficient way to learn from home.
“I think asynchronous learning might be better now for students who are watching younger siblings or having other obligations,” Merriwether wrote in an email. “The work is more intense now. Managing everything online is difficult when you didn’t plan [for] it.”
Koenraad Gieskes, assistant director and lecturer of the Engineering Design Division (EDD), wrote in an email that the Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT), which supports student-centered learning on campus, offers online training for Zoom. According to Gieskes, the center has helped faculty in the Watson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences with the transition to distance learning.
“Our faculty has been able to benefit greatly from [the CLT’s] class sessions as well as their responsiveness to questions,” Gieskes wrote. “The University as a whole, I feel, has been very good at keeping us all informed about the situation, making sure we know about the available tools and working to keep students and staff safe.”
Susan Ryan, an adjunct instructor of environmental studies, wrote in an email that Harpur College’s Dean’s Office has also helped professors with technical support and provided additional lines of communication with department heads. Some faculty are using Slack, a messaging-based communication platform for workplaces, to keep up with changes and share their online class plans.
“Everyone’s been great,” Ryan wrote.
Gieskes wrote that faculty will need to be flexible to make class transitions as seamless as possible and help students who are having a difficult time.
“The change isn’t going to go as smoothly for everyone, so it’s important to keep that in mind when teaching or taking a class,” Gieskes wrote. “For us, this means possibly extending a deadline or reducing the amount of material covered this first week. It also means working with students to make sure they are comfortable with the programs and procedures.”
But while all faculty members are experiencing varying levels of success in their first week of distance learning, Ryan wrote the most difficult part of the switch to online classes has been the lack of interaction with students.
“The hardest part is feeling connected,” Ryan wrote. “I miss seeing my students’ faces.”
Merriwether said she also has struggled to adapt to not seeing her students.
“All silliness aside, the most difficult thing is I miss my students terribly,” Merriwether wrote. “That’s the truly worst part. I’m worried about them too. I’m sure so many of them are just so stressed and anxious.”