‘It’s a new territory’: Professors and students face struggle to adapt to online classes

Chloe Byers, sophomore in marketing, checks her assignments on Canvas in Kedzie Hall to catch up on what's due. (File Photo by Paige Eichkorn | Collegian Media Group)

With social distancing requirements and large gatherings canceled, face-to-face classes have been online for close to two months now. The adjustment has been difficult for many people at Kansas State.

Zoom has been the go-to for many professors trying to adapt their curriculums to the online format, but it’s not a perfect fix.

“It’s strange trying to teach 50 people when all you see are names,” Matthew Dance, student teacher and graduate student in sociology, said.

Since some professors are not requiring students to have their cameras and mics on, many aren’t receiving feedback on their lectures.

“My teaching style is orientated on ‘Are my students getting it?’ so I can quickly adapt in class,” Dance said. “I work really hard to be adaptive and it’s hard to be adaptive when you have no feedback.”

Dance said he is hesitant to require students to have their camera and microphone on because it seems like an intrusion of privacy.

“I want to keep a distance as kind of a professional professor right,” he said. “Maybe other professors feel different. It’s a new territory. What if they live in an environment they don’t want other people to see?”

Dance is far from the only instructor who has found the adjustment challenging. Steve Smethers, interim director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism, has had to shift from his usual 200-person lectures to just powerpoints. With such large class sizes, his high energy lectures have had to make a completely different turn.

“To me, I felt that posting slides was not going to be merely instructive enough,” Smethers said. “So then I found out how you could narrate slideshows. I did that and it took me about a week to get used to it. For example, I didn’t realize that all the fancy transitions I like to use between slides, that’s always a potential problem if somebody is downloading and running a slideshow.”

Dance said that while he likes Canvas and thinks it’s one of the best learning platforms, he’s struggled a bit with it.

“I’ve still had to contact IT a couple of times to ask ‘How do I make this work? How do I get media site to work? How do I save videos?’ And they’ve had to walk me through,” he said. “They’ve been very helpful so it’s just a new platform to use all of the aspects of canvas.”

As a graduate student, Dance’s time is limited and costly, and he sometimes has to choose between teaching his class and spending time on his own studies.

“I was debating on ‘Well,do I shift to powerpoint?’ I had to almost reconsider the entire class because of Zoom,” Dance said. “I’ve taken a couple of courses on how to create online classes and it really is an art form. I’m trying to debate whether or not I could’ve put more work into it.”

Despite all the struggles he’s faced, Smethers said he has found positives for when classes do go back to normal. With the media samples he’s compiled, he’s going to add them into the course regardless of whether or not he’s gone back to face-to-face or not in the fall.

“I will go ahead and post that stuff to K-State Online and use that as a kind of supplement to the course to add a little breadth and depth to the course,” Smethers said.

Michelle Koczan, junior in art, lives in Spotsylvania, Virginia, — a relatively average-sized town. With her whole family working from home, WiFi during the daytime isn’t the best.

“Sometimes I can’t hear what the teachers are saying and I might have missed something they say that’s important, like a deadline,” Koczan said.

As an art major, Koczan has her projects critiqued by other students and professors, which now takes place all through Zoom.

“Sometimes it doesn’t glitch while the teacher is talking but while other students are talking, which also is unfortunate if they’re giving critiques,” Koczan said.

Moreover, concentrating on school has been more difficult than ever, Koczan said.

“Zoom is definitely not the worst, but I do miss being able to ask teachers questions in real life and talking to students. But I also really like working in my own time sometime,” Koczan said. “I’m such a procrastinator I almost feel it’s worse. But, also we’re in a pandemic and I’ve struggled a lot with paying attention anyway and focusing on how everything sucks.”