Faculty Speak Out About the Presence of Online Learning Format in the Age of COVID-19

In the age of COVID-19, online formatting has been popular whether you are ordering groceries from home, video-calling family and friends or taking college courses online.

Baldwin Wallace faculty members have seen first-hand that switching to an online learning format mid-way through the semester is not ideal. However, there are several benefits and challenges to utilizing an online learning format.

Andy Dohanos, professor of communication studies, previously taught an online hybrid course. He has seen the sheer difference between the expectations students have when they go into the class knowing it will be online versus not expecting to learn via an online format.

“This goes around, and all bets are off. That’s not what the students signed up for; it’s not what we [faculty] signed up for. It’s not what we are used to,” he said.

Dohanos acknowledges that shifting the culture of an interactive face-to-face classroom setting to an online format mid-way becomes a challenge on its own. Students start to get into a routine of how to do things and what is expected of them, as well as faculty.

“Sort of…the rug is pulled out from underneath you, and you have to start over again and re-learn expectations,” said Dohanos.

He said that it may also be easier for the students who tend to be quieter and more reserved in a face-to-face classroom setting. It almost becomes more comfortable for students to become “anonymous” and stay hidden in the background.

“So, when I show up to my virtual class, do I have to have my video on or not? Are you expecting me to answer questions?” He said.

Though there are many challenges facing the new expectations that students must adapt to due to the switch, faculty are also facing some of their own obstacles.

“On the other side of the coin, is it appropriate for me to call on you, and to say hey, blank [student’s name] what do you think about this? And, what do I do if you are not there when I call on you, or you’re not prepared…how do you handle that sort of thing?” said Dohanos.

Although there seems to be a long list of challenges that the online learning format has sparked, there are also many benefits.

Dr. Adam Gutschmidt, an adjunct professor of communication studies, has recognized these benefits before coming to Baldwin Wallace, and before the age of COVID-19. Gutschmidt has taught many online courses at the University of Ashford for about six years before starting at Baldwin Wallace in the Fall of 2019.

As a professor of communications, Gutschimidt understands the importance of communication, especially now when students and faculty are having to communicate via different mediums and channels continually.

“As an instructor, you have to realize there are a lot of things going on beyond the classroom,” he said. “Like, students either have jobs or now dealing with this pandemic. There is a lot of fears and concerns about health and income.”

Gutschmidt says that school may become less of a priority, and faculty must recognize this and be accommodating while still encouraging students to stay engaged.

“Try to work with the students to make sure that their fears are put to rest and that they can still actively participate inside the classroom,” said Gutschmidt.

Personally, for Gutschmidt, teaching online is not new; however, for the students at Baldwin Wallace who have never been in an online course, there have been some benefits to learning via an online format.

Students are given more freedom and can re-watch their online lectures and take time to gain or understand the material a little bit better versus furiously taking notes in a classroom setting, says Gutschmidt.

Students and faculty have also been lucky in terms of the University from a technical standpoint.

Gutshmidt says [Baldwin Wallace] was able to have the Blackboard Collaborate room established as well as other online tools up and running as quickly as possible, advocating for a smooth transition.

There is no doubt that both challenges and benefits may arise when teaching or learning in an online format.

Gutschmidt says that the advice to faculty dealing with students and this new online format is not to be afraid of the technology, to get creative, and to look for ways to incorporate what is going on in the real-world into your teaching.