After the spring semester was cut short because of COVID-19, many universities, faculty and students struggled to deal with the quick transition from in-person to online learning. Now that there has been time for schools to get plans together, many professors have been trying to figure out how to safely and effectively change their teaching plans to accommodate new university mandated safety measures when classes resume this fall.
“The first couple weeks of fall will tell us a lot about what the rest of the semester is going to look like,” said Andrew Corner, an advertising and public relations professor at Michigan State University.
As the start of the fall semester approaches, MSU has transitioned 57% of undergraduate classes to online learning, with 17% changing to a hybrid system and the remaining 26% completely in-person.
“Even for my in-person classes, I would be prepared to go online anytime,” said Anastasia Kononova, an advertising and public relations professor at MSU. “This is something we did not predict in the spring semester and this is something I think we’re getting ready for in the Fall in case the pandemic re-emerges on campus. I think everyone should have a plan to go online.”
In order to prepare professors for teaching online classes, MSU offered SOIREE or (Summer Online Instructional Readiness Educational Experience) as a professional development tool to ensure that professors are prepared to transition their regular curriculum to online classes.
“The university, in a very efficient manner, organized training for instructors at MSU and also doctoral students who will teach as instructors, to take classes and to participate in other programs to review courses online,” said Kononova. “I know that hundreds of instructors from different units at MSU took that course just to make sure that they know how to operate D2L, how to put materials online instead of in person instruction.”
Even with training programs in place to help professors through this transition, there are still many variables that could affect how this next academic semester plays out.
“I don’t think there will be a lot of classes on campus that will be 100% in class and the reason I say that is suppose I have some students in one of these classes that, for particular health reasons, absolutely cannot come in and let’s say, for example, they are seniors and need their experiential learning requirement, then we would have to do something to work around that,” said Dr. Raymond Jussaume, a professor of sociology at MSU.
Jussaume said that the Thanksgiving cut off of in-person class also plays a part in how he is redesigning his classes for this fall. Jussaume also said that the classrooms that will be used for in person instruction this fall will be set up for streaming class sessions. This is so that any student who has to quarantine themselves, because they are sick or have been contact traced to someone who is positive for COVID-19, will still be able to attend their classes.
“The semester, regardless of how you are doing things, is going to require a great deal of flexibility and I don’t see any class operating as it did a year ago,” said Jussaume.
For Kononova’s hybrid course, which will meet in-person one day a week, she said there will be two main adjustments she has to make to accommodate students in the upcoming semester.
“I will not do the lecture for up to 300 students in one classroom and I don’t think students will be able to ask me questions afterwards, where after the lecture students line up and then clarify some things…I’m afraid it will not be possible to do it this way,” said Kononova. “There will be much more Zoom meetings, and I’m planning to organize, in addition to office hours, something like a town hall where students can connect for an hour, with each other and me, and discuss anything.
“For the recitations, it used to be required for the students to attend the class to do hands-on assignments,” said Kononova. “Now, we are probably not going to require strict attendance because we absolutely understand that first of all there are health concerns. If students are concerned about their health and risks to health, especially if a student is in a high-risk category, then we will not require that student to come to the recitation.”
Kononova said that with the transition to online classes, she is worried about being able to properly engage students to facilitate group discussions during online sessions. She said that it is much easier to have discussions, brainstorm and create ideas when students are together in a classroom instead of interacting over Zoom video.
Jussaume shares Kononova’s concern for group work in online classes. He said that group work is what makes up most of his experiential learning classes, where students learn by bouncing ideas off each other, making mistakes, and gaining different perspectives from classmates as they switch groupmates which will be much harder to do online.
“We have to do the best we can, and some students may do fine [learning online] but others may not and I think that is the issue, there’s a differential impact,” said Jussaume. “The impact isn’t the same for all students in all classes. A student may do well online in class A and not so well in class C.”
In addition to ensuring students receive the same level of instruction they were getting when classes were all in person, MSU has said in numerous emails sent to students and staff, that safety is its highest priority. To offer a safe environment for everyone at MSU, there will be guidelines in place to minimize risk and spread of COVID-19.
“The university is developing what they are calling a compact, it’s a series of statements that everybody is supposed to agree to abide by,” said Corner. “Face coverings, social distancing are all covered in it. The university is trying to encourage compliance with mask wearing and social distancing, because it’s the right thing to do”
Corner acknowledged that there is a high level of uncertainty coming into the fall semester in regards to how classes will run and if they will stay the way they currently are set up. However, Corner also said that there is one thing he knows for certain.
“We need to recognize that everybody is in it together, try to take care of each other, and do the best we can with what we have got.”