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A Ph.D. candidate and instructor at the University of Michigan shares observations on the sudden shift to remote teaching

As schools and universities have been closing their physical doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have had to quickly learn how to conduct classes remotely – often through trial and error.

As part of monthly speakers' series for ProQuest employees, Dawn Kaczmar, a Ph.D. candidate and instructor in the University of Michigan English department, shared with us her observation on the shift to teaching online over the recent weeks.

“It has been very stressful, as you might imagine,” she said. “Teachers are troubleshooting technology issues and making lots of mistakes” such as forgetting to turn on a microphone while recording a lecture.

“Online instruction is a specific skillset that instructors are having to learn on the spot,” she continued. “Often instructors need certification to be able to teach online. Many universities require that and now we’ve all been moved to teaching online. So, we’re trying to help each other in sharing resources.”

Kaczmar explained that there are two basic modes of online teaching: synchronous and asynchronous. Each has a unique set of advantages and disadvantages.

Synchronous and asynchronous teaching online

Synchronous teaching means that classes continue to meet in a virtual space, such as Zoom or Google Hangouts, during the regularly scheduled time, and all students are required to attend. Such a setup can replicate the experience of in-class discussion or lecture; and adhering to a normal routine can help students – and instructors – have some sense of normalcy.

However, Kaczmar said, “What instructors realized very quickly,” is that when everyone is signed on for classes at the same time, “it can crash the Zoom server.”

As a result, many instructors are opting to teaching asynchronously, such as recording a lecture and distributing it to students to watch or listen to on their own time.

Rather than using Zoom or another video component, these instructors might rely on a tool like PowerPoint, with a recorded lecture included, as well as discussion boards to replace in-class discussion.

Compassion for students is a top priority

Regardless of how an instructor chooses to conduct their online classes, Kaczmar said they are all encouraged to have compassion for their students who are struggling to navigate learning in an online environment and dealing with the stress of everyday life during a global pandemic.

She described some of the ways the University of Michigan is easing the burden on students. “Grades have been changed to either ‘pass’ or ‘no grade’ instead of giving letter grades,” she said.

“Many instructors are also relaxing course requirements and offering extensions for assignments,” Kaczmar continued. “Students are dealing with all sorts of unexpected issues and stress right now,” she explained, pointing out some students might be essential workers who are working every day; some are taking care of sick family members or may be ill themselves; some are facing sudden financial hardships as the result of job loss or other sources of funding.

ProQuest can help

We know that the sudden transition to distance teaching and learning has been a challenge for our customers. Our goal is to lift the burden off librarians at this critical time by bringing together our data, time-tested processes and the broadest set of content in a series of programs designed to support libraries’ current urgent needs.

Watch a recording of our recent webinar on Transitioning to the Digital Classroom and explore creative ideas, resources and tools to support engaging remote teaching and learning.

ProQuest is standing by to help you with any issues you’re experiencing as demands for remote access and distance learning increase. Visit https://support.proquest.com or contact your support team to discuss concerns you may have.


29 Apr 2020

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