Since March 2020, the majority of instruction at UCI has been held online. The pandemic has changed UCI professors’ teaching styles, causing them to make use of and rely on modern technology more and allowing them to engage in more personalized discussions with their students.
“Shifting to remote instruction was no easy task. Students, teaching assistants (TAs) and faculty adjusted quickly and adapted well to the new instructional format,” economics lecturer Ty Robbins said.
Robbins, like many professors and educators who have had to adapt to online learning, feels that online teaching has both its advantages and disadvantages.
“It has definitely been more challenging not being able to see all student’s faces and their expressions,” gender and sexuality studies professor Jennifer Terry said. “I like to structure my classes with the use of PowerPoint slides, listening more intently to what each student has to say much like an air traffic controller operator.”
Terry’s class involves more interactive learning, such as calling on students to read passages aloud or working in smaller groups to better retain information.
“Sometimes I use musical opera to engage with students in class, or I will show off the cuteness of my dog on camera,” Terry said.
Terry commented on some of the advantages she sees with being online. For example, a student with a disability or students without reliable transportation access are now able to attend class with the same benefits as every other student.
“This learning format allows for students to attend class who usually wouldn’t be able to make it to campus,” Terry said.
Internal medicine clinical professor Dr. Martha Sosa-Johnson said the “biggest challenge [to online learning is] learning how to use Zoom at first.”
Like everyone else, teachers have learned to adapt to the new online format by discovering and utilizing new resources.
“I learned how to use Excel reports to categorize Zoom attendance,” Sosa-Johnson said.
Sosa-Johnson also spoke of how grateful she was to co-teacher and family medicine professor Dr. Johanna Shapiro for helping her because “I don’t think I could’ve done this all by myself.”
Shapiro noted that the new Zoom format is more suited for classes with fewer students.
“I tend to use the first five to seven minutes of class to personally connect with my students,” Shapiro said.
Whether that’s asking them questions like how their day is going, telling jokes or checking up with them on their progress in the class, Shapiro sees Zoom as an opportunity “to try to have a meaningful personal exchange with each of her students.”
English professor and UCI New Swan Shakespeare Center Co-Director Dr. Julia Lupton felt grateful for all of her learning assistants.
“They have office hours as well and help to facilitate peer-to-peer contact in breakout rooms,” Lupton said. “This quarter we have done activities such as virtual scavenger hunts through the Anteater Rec Center and other creative assignments involving Shakespeare to try and facilitate student engagement.”
English graduate student Jan Leornard Maramot Rodil described the pandemic as a “tornado trying to blow you off your feet.” He shared a new perspective on the situation as he is a teaching assistant for while also being a current graduate student at UCI.
“I noticed a disconnect between my fellow students on Zoom versus in person,” Rodil said.
He also said that “[h]aving to learn Canvas as an instructor was a completely different process versus [learning Canvas as] a student … it took a lot of getting used to.”
The Zoom format has allowed for teachers to have two main ways of conducting their classes: asynchronous and synchronous.
“Asynchronous is completely different from synchronous. It was a completely different process of learning that often caused me to lose control [of my class],” Rodil said.
On the other hand, associate history professor Adria Imada prefers an asynchronous format. Pre-recorded lectures allow her to include “low-stakes multiple choice questions about the material, short video clips (like moving images with some questions for students to consider) and lots of images.”
Robbins also enjoys the asynchronous format.
“With the use of digital whiteboards and audio/visual recording software, my lecture approach thankfully remained consistent, allowing me to deliver instructive videos on economic theory and quantitative analysis. With the luxury of learning at your own pace with asynchronous lectures, online bonus quizzes were a great way to incentivize students to keep up with the material and not fall behind,” Robbins said.
The ability to post questions and interact with the professor in a discussion forum was also a major area of importance in Robbins’ class.
“Always a valuable tool pre-pandemic, discussion boards allowed for constant student/instructor interaction and provided a treasure trove of public knowledge for all parties to benefit from,” Robbins said.
In addition, this year has allowed professors to better appreciate the technology around them.
“I am grateful to modern-day technology to allow me to continue teaching and stay connected with all of my family, and I am really impressed with how quickly our society has adapted and adjusted,” Shapiro said.
Lupton added that “[t]he university is making it very easy for faculty to learn about online teaching by providing many classes on how to teach virtually. They are here to support us. I have gained new skills that I will take with me … I have definitely grown as a teacher.”
“I love the work I do even now. I will never take Canvas for granted again,” Rodil said.
“This year has shown me that you can make connections over zoom that are both meaningful and foundational,” Shapiro added.
James Huston is a Campus News Intern for the winter 2021 quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.