Professors adjust to teaching during a pandemic

We all know students and the Truman State University administration have had to make several adjustments because of COVID-19. However, the often forgotten piece of the puzzle in these adjustments is the professors, whose jobs and responsibilities significantly increased this semester.

Like students, professors have had to adjust how they approach classes this semester. Percussion professor Michael Bump said having the experience of transitioning classes to an online format last semester somewhat prepared him for this semester.

“We had enough of a trial run, chaotic as it was, after spring break, so it’s not completely foreign to us this fall about navigating the Zoom process and the whole modified-teaching delivery process,” Bump said.

Bump said having an accelerated process in the spring paired with a summer to piece together a more cohesive schedule, professors were able to have more confidence in their abilities for this semester.

While some professors are teaching multiple styles of courses, philosophy professor Chad Mohler said he is teaching strictly online, synchronous courses.

Mohler said this allows him to see all of his students regularly and see if those students need help. 

With teaching online, synchronous courses, Mohler said he is able to have optimal interaction with his students. Mohler uses polls in his online courses to offer his students a chance to interact with the course material and each other.

“I can ask them, for instance, what view of freedom they have when talking about free will and determinism, or I can have them list different conceptions of personhood when we’re talking about personal identity,” Mohler said. “These polls are very nice for that purpose.”

Breakout rooms on Zoom are another feature Mohler said he frequently uses for his students to have small group discussions. These groups can use a virtual whiteboard and all members can see what students are writing on the virtual boards.

While some professors decided to utilize one form of course delivery, others chose to offer multiple delivery styles. This is the case for statistics professor Scott Alberts.

One difficulty of teaching through online courses is getting students to communicate in class, Alberts said. However, with virtual office hours, students have been more willing to come in and ask for help.

With the uncertainty that comes with teaching in a pandemic and having different class styles, Alberts explained that he has had to focus much more on how he is teaching the material.

When teaching hybrid courses, which include students that are both in-person and online, Alberts said it could be challenging to keep in touch with both groups of students.

Not only are professors worried about making a mistake in their teachings, but now there are other technical factors that professors have to worry about and adjust to, Alberts said.

“In addition to just a statistics mistake or a math mistake on the board, you also forget to unmute yourself, or the quality wasn’t right, or you got distracted in the middle of the lecture and you have to start it over,” Alberts said.

Technology has been a blessing and a curse, Alberts explained. While there are added difficulties, the University purchased more and higher quality cameras for nearly every classroom.

Professors have also had to find ways to adjust to not having traditional breaks.

Alberts emphasized the importance of finding breaks to take a moment and go outside to get some passive exercise. He said he had made breaks part of his own schedule, so he doesn’t come to campus or teach classes on Tuesday mornings. 

“Even just walking around campus, I’ve kind of picked up the habit — which I don’t normally have — of just going out for a walk,” Alberts said. “I’ll just walk around the Quad and come back to my office.”

While the semester has been more tiring than most, Alberts noted, he said he has enjoyed getting to have interactions with his students and has been optimistic about the spring semester.

While teaching in the classroom has been more challenging, Bump said teaching the arts or crafts has also been more difficult this semester.

While classroom courses can make a slightly easier transition to an online format, Bump said music ensembles are a different story. Some groups have taken recordings and pasted them together, but Bump said he misses seeing larger groups of musicians making music together in-person.

“There’s just nothing to replace the learning moment of everybody being in the same room and making music together at that moment,” Bump said.

Bump explained that typically every semester, the Percussion Ensemble does several large ensemble pieces. However, due to COVID-19 concerns, they resorted to more chamber pieces, which, as Bump stated, usually consist of a much smaller number of players. 

However, some ensembles are unable to shrink in size, including Truman Steel, which is the University’s steel band and the largest ensemble that Bump is instructing this semester. Therefore, Bump decided to make the ensemble volunteer-based this semester and follow as many health guidelines as possible.

“The steel band is probably the largest of ensembles, but we’ve still been able to maintain some element of social distancing in the ensemble setting,” Bump said. “And with the masks, using hand sanitizer and being prudent about all those personal hygiene things.”

While ensembles haven’t been quite the same as they were in previous semesters, Bump said he was happy that they were able to put together the chamber pieces and keep the Steel Band alive and well.

For lessons, Bump has experimented with different teaching forms to keep both himself and his students safe in practice rooms that don’t have as much space for social distancing. This included a possible scenario of 30 minutes for live instruction followed by a 30-minute Zoom follow up.

However, the lesson’s momentum tends to get away from him, Bump said, and rather than splitting the lesson he has resorted to just staying on the opposite side of the room and offering critiques from a safe distance. 

While professors have had to make several adjustments to teaching classes this semester, some consistencies have remained. Mohler, Alberts and Bump all praised the dedication and work ethic of their students.

“I think our students are earnest and hard-working, and that continues to be true now,” Mohler said.

Students have continued to bring thoughts to discussions in his classes, and Mohler said he doesn’t see a much higher number of students who need outside help in his classes given the circumstances.

Outside of the classroom, professors are also glad to see how serious the student body is taking the current pandemic. Alberts discussed how the University had been able to keep the case number relatively low compared to other schools, contributing the majority of the credit to the students who are consistently wearing masks and attempting to social distance.

Masks, Bump said, are necessary but do limit professors’ abilities to read student’s expressions, leading to more cautious social interaction.

“Everybody’s just a little cautious about conversations,” Bump said. “Because it’s difficult to read fully what the other person is thinking.”

However, Bump is confident in the University and its students to finish the semester strong and do what they can do to make it work for next semester.