Transitioning to online classes from a teacher’s perspective

Transitioning to an online class format for the first time in the middle of a semester was a challenge for faculty and students alike. One of those faculty members making adjustments was Matt Knoester, associate professor of educational studies.

His three classes for the spring semester, “Who Decides? International Perspectives on Democracy,” a first-year Catalyst writing class, “Differentiated Instruction” and “Teaching Content in the Elementary Grades,” all transitioned to online.

“I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to build a relationship with each of my students this semester for more than half of the semester before moving online,” Knoester says. He met with each of his advisees on Zoom at the beginning of the shutdown to “touch base” and see how each was doing. He continued to keep in touch to see how they were doing in their personal lives while away from campus.

He said that although his classes were moved online, the schedules of due dates outlined in the original syllabi were maintained. “I felt that moving online meant a lot less speaking and more writing, as compared with face-to-face, both on the part of students and the professor,” Knoester says. “I wrote a lot longer comments on my students’ papers and reading responses, but there was less overall information exchanged because when we speak in face-to-face classes, many thousands of words are exchanged almost effortlessly.”

Another challenge for him was adjusting as a parent with two school-age children at home and a spouse who also works at home. “Juggling teaching and homeschooling of my children was a significant challenge,” he says. “In terms of the work itself, the hardest part was trying to figure out how the students were doing and reacting to the transition to online — trying to figure out a good level of challenge for the students, as I am also trying to understand whether and how they may be struggling and facing new challenges at home.”

He says many first-year students struggled with the transition to online learning and seemed overwhelmed by what was happening. Many missed assignments but were reluctant to ask for help or access support tools that were available.

Upperclassmen and women adjusted more quickly, Knoester says. “Almost all of them were able to focus on completing the assignments and seemed to gain quite a lot from the different emphasis on reading and writing, as opposed to speaking and listening.”

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