Professors share their perspectives on online learning

Professors at Canisius reflect on the ways in which online learning has changed teaching methods.

Canisius proves to be taking advantage of every resource to ensure the best education for students online.

The rapid transition to online learning has caused turbulence and stress for many students now faced with completing their semester in a new and possibly unknown territory. Increased screen time and growing pressure as finals week approaches has overwhelmed many in the process but students are, of course, not the only ones affected by the pandemic’s consequences. Professors with varying technological capabilities and methods of instruction have had to scramble to restructure their courses to an online world, and adjust their personal lives to match.

Professor Lisa August is an adjunct in the Communication Studies department. She’s been teaching at Canisius for 12 years and worked full-time in colleges as a counselor, administrator and lecturer for 25. “Figuring out this technological and cultural adjustment has been unlike anything I have ever experienced in 40+ years,” she wrote in an email, citing the rapid learning curve and ambiguity with “fair” grading as challenges in the transition. 

Dr. Grande has been a professor in the Teacher Education department for 18 years and currently serves as Program Director for the Special and Childhood Education programs at the college. Dr. Grande was in a unique position at the start of the transition because some of her classes were already online or hybrid. She understood that faculty felt uncomfortable teaching online within their disciplines, and hoped that when in-class instruction returns, professors may see online learning differently. “Transitioning to teaching online for a pandemic is not the same as carefully and gradually learning about technology which can be infused into online learning,” she wrote in an email, and explained that online learning requires more discipline and activity from students than one may expect given the increase in assignments. She also believes it’s better for professors, as the increase in assignments means more grading and feedback on the instructor’s end. This feedback “takes a lot of time, but I think the students appreciate it which makes me do it hours after my kids have gone to bed,” she wrote.

Dr. Howard Stanger has a different perspective. This is Dr. Stanger’s nineteenth year at the college, twenty-sixth teaching, and he serves as a professor in the Department of Management. “I was not a fan of online ‘teaching’ before and I still think face-to-face is superior and consistent with what students prefer and what Canisius is known for,” he wrote in an email. “But I have been forced to learn some new features of D2L that heretofore I had not used and this has been a pleasant surprise.” But rather than feeling like an instructor or a professor, Dr. Stanger feels more like “a technician at a control panel or a customer service rep” orchestrating the class, and likened 100% online instruction to a generator used in emergency situations such as this. He believes that online instruction “should complement face-to-face,” as he plans to use online quizzes, the online gradebook and the discussion board features of D2L upon returning to face-to-face instruction. “Students enroll at Canisius for the small classes, close interaction with and mentoring from professors, extracurricular activities, the school’s mission and quality of faculty and programs,” he wrote. “We lose this competitive advantage if we move too many courses and degrees online.”

Professors confirmed that most of their students interacted with online learning in much the same way as they interacted in the classroom, but some have withdrawn. Dr. Stanger noted that some students have been engaged, some have been distant and others still have “dispersed into the wind.” “If they have 5-6 courses, they could potentially experience too much change in a short amount of time and withdraw psychologically,” he explained. August expressed a similar sentiment, recalling that when the college was still “in session” as usual, some students expressed some excitement about class suspension, as if it were “a snow day.” She cautioned against this reaction. “I knew the logistic and social toll it would take on all of us, along with the lost esprit de corps we find on a college campus,” she wrote. “I have been in close touch with most of my students, but I still feel like everyone is ‘floating’ out in the world.”

Professors, like all of us, are adjusting to the nuanced life outside of academia as well. Most share their homes with children or spouses, the former of which may need to be homeschooled as public schools are closed. The lack of access to one’s office or library was a common concern, as was the overall stress of hauling their lives and professions into the online space while the world outside turns differently than before. “Everything is made even more complex by the need for changing almost every personal and professional action we take,” August wrote. “Who ever thought about opening their car doors or the perils of grocery shopping prior to the pandemic?” Dr. Grande, at home with two children who she now homeschools, cites Netflix, Hulu and Amazon as “a welcome distraction” and discovered a newfound love for puzzles. “We have enjoyed the extra family time and eating all of our meals together as a family,” Dr. Grande wrote. “Like many others, we are involved in a million activities with our kids so this has reminded us of what is important.” 

Overall, August, a former administrator in WNY colleges, was impressed by the “tremendous job” that Canisius has done in transition compared to other colleges and universities. She wrote that colleagues came together to help each other with converting classes and communication from administration was “frequent, and always with the health and well-being of everyone in mind.” She acknowledges the challenges of the decisions that administrators, fellow professors and students have to make, and recognizes “there could be no clear cut process for this conversion,” but remains hopeful. 

“We have very good resources for assistance here at the college, and caring people,” she wrote. “With that combination, I know we can get through this challenging time.”

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