Off Campus, Online
At AUC, our transition to online learning was rather sudden. One Sunday, I was teaching on campus; the next, I was sitting at home, trying to enjoy the first day of a Spring Break suddenly bestowed upon me 48 hours earlier. Ultimately, however, I spent the week putting together a plan for the rest of the semester. How will the students manage to debate social norms online? Will I be able to hold their attention and teach despite the anxious family members outside their rooms, the dozens of tabs open on their browsers, and the seductive comfort of their mattresses and sofas? Such were the sort of questions that added to my multidimensional anxiety during that first week of lockdown, during which COVID-19 was still, at large, a mystery to most of mankind.
I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction of most of my students, however. Instead of being discouraged by the pandemic and allowing it to serve as an excuse for laziness, many became all the more motivated to focus on their studies and reach their learning outcomes. Attendance improved. Late submissions decreased. And when I mumbled to myself anxiously as I struggled to figure out why my microphone wasn’t working on Zoom, a tech-savvy student asked me to share my screen and fixed the issue within seconds.
Still, the challenges weren’t few. My first attempt at uploading a pre-recorded lecture to YouTube took three hours and ended unsuccessfully at 60% uploaded when I exhausted all my data plan’s gigabytes. I was forced to try again the next day. Many students also had unreliable internet connections which would sporadically expel them from our Zoom lectures, forcing me to rewind and repeat a point again and again. And though most of the students were determined to attend class and learn, I struggled to keep track of the few that didn’t, seeing that they would come to class, mute their audio and video, and leave me wondering to what extent they had attended the class. Many times, I would call on them with a question and discover that they weren’t with us at all.
The Fall 2020 semester was an entirely different story. As instructors, we had weeks to design our courses for online delivery. We received training from the Center for Learning and Teaching and had previous experience to reflect and improve on. What’s more, COVID-19 is no longer as much of a cause for angst; we know it’s a bad, and sometimes deadly, virus, but our imagination is no longer running wild with daily images of an obliterated human civilization. And so, at least personally, I’m happy to say that, a month into the semester, I feel I’m delivering my courses just as effectively as I did in person, if not more so.
Let’s just say it goes a long way to be able to mute your students at will. And that it’s imperative for AUC to figure out a way of integrating this superpower into in-person teaching.
Jokes aside, it’ll be interesting to see how, and to what extent, online teaching remains a part of AUC’s environment post-COVID-19. Personally, I believe there’s an entire demographic of students and a handful of courses that only benefit from being online, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t remain as an option for some courses in the long run.