Every new semester brings challenges and opportunities. None, however, quite like the spring 2020 semester thousands of colleges and universities around the world adapting to a virtual learning environment.
Students, faculty, and staff in the College of Business, Economics, and Computing (CBEC) at UW-Parkside have been coming up with strategies to best take advantage of their new situation. CBEC faculty hold video conferences twice per week just to discuss how things are going on with online classes, and faculty get together to share information on best practices. Though these meetings are voluntary, 12 CBEC faculty and staff have been routinely exchanging information to keep everyone up to date. Faculty are also posting about their experiences and answering each other’s questions through Canvas, the course management site used by the university.
Michael Zurad, an adjunct associate lecturer, has been recording his lectures so that students can stream them on demand. On top of that, he’s been holding live WebEx Q&A sessions during his regularly scheduled class times. This allows for greater flexibility and enables Zurad to stay in touch with his students. “The feedback so far has been positive. The students like the ability to pause and rewind the lecture while they try my examples on their own in Visual Studio,” said Zurad.
Zurad’s class has appreciated this level of approachability and flexibility. Daniel Becker, a student in Zurad’s class, had the following to say to his professor:
“I was going to chat in the Webex tonight and say this through voice chat but some stuff with work came up and I need to watch the MIS videos during the scheduled time instead. So, I’ll just say this through email.
“Thank you so much for everything you’re doing to make the learning style change as easy as possible. The format you chose is easy and clear for me to follow. Also, thank you for opening up your schedule on Tuesdays to answer any questions that we have. You mentioned in your video that one of the benefits of Parkside is the approachability (I’m officially declaring that a word now) of professors and I definitely felt that with your videos.
“So, I’ll keep trucking along and get tonight’s work done, but I wanted to let you know how thankful I am for a professor like you for this class. Personally, I was terrified of this subject in the beginning of the semester but now I feel confident that I can take this on and finish the year with a good grade.”
Don Gillespie, a lecturer in the Business Department, has gone with a slightly more unusual approach for his class. He has encouraged students to work on their statistics homework as a team. Fostering this teamwork approach has proven highly effective for the class. Aaron Michaels, a student in Gillespie’s business statistics class, put out a call to his fellow students to connect on Microsoft Teams after Gillespie had given the students information on practice questions/videos and urged them to work together virtually.
The response was immediate and almost the entire class was on board. Seventeen students wanted to connect via Teams. Michaels was grateful to his instructor for encouraging students to work together and showed a great level of initiative in connecting with his classmates. Michaels’ motivation was to give his classmates the opportunity to talk and work together on assignments as they could when face-to-face instruction was available.
“It is not fair to us as students who have worked together all semester not be able to because of this horrible virus. So, I have created a Microsoft Teams group so we are all able to communicate virtually with one another. The university offers this great program within our office 365 downloads. I chose Teams because we have students who travel from different countries, so this way everyone is able to meet in one place and we do not have to worry about students not being able to join or contribute because of where they live.
“I am happy to see that we, together as a class, can come together and finish these next few weeks off strong by working together as one team.”
Michaels acknowledges that the change to virtual learning has been challenging.
“It is times like this where we as students need to come together and get through these last few challenging weeks. I am delighted to say that we are overcoming these challenges and working together to get through these stressful and challenging times.
“One of the most important skills to take out of college is teamwork and communication because we will need it for our futures in the workforce. It was an honor to put together this group and I am glad we can all continue and work together as a team to finish off the remainder of the semester and to continue to succeed in QM 210.”