Professors find unique challenges, solutions to online learning transition

From research to mentorship, faculty have adapted quickly to remote communication

After a few weeks of online learning at ASU amid a worldwide pandemic, professors who have never taught online courses are adapting to their new roles, each with differing experiences.

As University functions go remote, professors across all departments are finding and addressing different challenges, and celebrating triumphs. 

Swapna Reddy, a professor at the College of Health Solutions who supervises several honors students for their thesis projects, said the transition has changed how she communicates, but her students have taken the challenges in stride. 

One of Reddy's honors students, Nina Patel's honors presentation was scheduled for the Monday after spring break. Following rapid changes in the spread of COVID-19, Patel was notified that her presentation would be done remotely with just a few days notice.

"She didn't have any other examples of students that had done it before," Reddy said. "We certainly did not have examples, but we felt like that was the safe thing to do."

Reddy said although the change was sudden, Patel's presentation was a complete success.

"We were on Zoom, and we were all live," Reddy said. "We asked questions while she was going through it, and at the end we gave her feedback and comments and she did truly great."

Reddy said an honors thesis presentation is the culmination of months of work for honors students and usually their presentation is a milestone.

"Often historically they'll have parents there, they'll have friends, they'll have boyfriends, girlfriends, whatever the case," Reddy said. "So it's a pretty big deal."

Reddy said her goal is to ensure that her students are confident and prepared in their presentations and that they can still celebrate this accomplishment as anyone would have in the past.

Patel, a graduate student in the Science of Health Care Delivery program, presented her research about the health impacts of the public charge rule on children over Zoom. She said although she was nervous, the presentation went smoothly. 

Patel said the goal of her presentation was to “get this issue out there” and recording her presentation achieved that goal.

Health Solutions professor Greg Mayer said he had very little experience in online instruction when the University transitioned to remote learning, but he is quickly adapting to the new method.

Mayer said that he, his co-teacher and a teaching assistant have learned how to turn over a lecture to one another via Zoom in case one of them has technical difficulties during class. 

Mayer also came up with new ways to make sure his students have the same class experience. 

"I always like to have guest speakers, health care providers, bringing in experts who are really doing a certain type of health care delivery or high-value patient care," Mayer said. "So to help reduce some anxiety in some of those guest lecturers, I go off to where they are."

Tess Neal, who directs the Clinical and Legal Judgment Lab only taught Session A classes this semester, but she is still working on research projects. 

"I was already teaching online and so for myself, that has not been a major transition," Neal said.

Neal has had to manage working at home with her two children and husband while isolating in the house.

Neal said since she follows public health issues very closely, she pulled her son out of school a week before they moved to remote learning.

"I asked for teachers to give me the stuff that they were going to be doing for the week," Neal said. "So she sent his material home that they did that week, and we did it here with him."

Neal said she is working to balance keeping up with her son's education and not to "program every minute for him." 

Neal also said being home so much gives her a chance to do activities with her sons that she might not usually have. Her husband's birthday was last weekend, and her children took an active role in celebrating it.

"These kids are like helping me cook a birthday cake, you know, being more involved in something like that than otherwise," she said. 

Neal said she has also been recommending online educational resources for fellow professors through Twitter.

Tannah Broman, a lecturer at the College of Health Solutions, organized a "buddy system" for her fellow professors in which she matched experienced online professors with ones who needed help with the transition. 

She said teachers can be hesitant to call technical support services and generally rely on one another for help.

"They tend to run down the hall and have somebody they know and trust and say, 'hey, I've got this problem,'" she said.

Broman said amid the transition to online, professors were seeking general guidance or answers to very specific questions, and they are experiencing success with the professors they were matched with.

"They reached out, I kind of compiled those two lists," Broman said. "And then I just matched them up and said 'Here's your buddy. You guys go for it.'"

Broman said this system may also help online only teachers feel more connected to their fellow faculty.

"I think they've often felt that, while they had plenty of support for their job, they definitely probably felt a bit isolated from everything else that was going on," Broman said. "One of the big positives that came out of this was I think they felt more a part of everything."

Despite the transition being abrupt and, for some, completely new territory, professors are working hard to adapt to their new normal, or help those with less remote experience.


Reach the reporter at gmlieber@asu.edu and follow @G_Mira_ on Twitter. 

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