July 18, 2019 | 72° F

Lecturing across state lines: How online courses have altered classroom dynamics at Rutgers

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Many Rutgers professors, including Ben Burgis, a part-time lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, teach their classes remotely, sometimes from other states. While teaching at Miami Dade College in Florida, Burgis simultaneously teaches introductory courses to Rutgers students through Sakai.

Meeting with instructors after hours is a helpful way for students to build a better understanding of course material. But what does a student do if his or her professor’s office is in Miami? 

This was the case for students enrolled in an online section of Introduction to Philosophy this semester, taught by Ben Burgis, a part-time lecturer in the Department of Philosophy.

Prior to receiving a one-semester teaching opportunity from the University of Miami earlier this year, Burgis was scheduled to teach a few philosophy courses at Rutgers. Upon receiving the request, he canceled those sections and arranged to teach an online course from Miami. 

“I've enjoyed teaching the course,” Burgis said. “A positive of doing it online is that it slows down the processes of discussion and feedback, since it's all in writing rather than in real-time, face-to-face interaction. That can be useful, since it allows me to be very precise when I give feedback.”

This is not the first time Burgis has taught an online course, but it is the first time he has done so remotely out of state. He has experience teaching a variety of online introductory-level courses at Rutgers and other universities, he said. 

Burgis said teaching online frees him from having to monitor student attendance and reschedule class dates. Except for the final exam, which is in person and at times tricky to schedule, students only need internet access to complete required course material.

Despite this, he said he finds difficulty building a personal relationship with students online, making them more reluctant to reach out for questions and comments. He uses Skype as a way to bridge the gap and encourages students to contact him through the video chat service. 

He said that although this is his first time teaching a course from so far away, he understands that it is a fairly common occurrence. Similar to how students who are not in New Brunswick register for online courses, faculty, especially part-time lecturers, do so as well. 

"There have been times in the past when my teaching commitments have felt overwhelming, but I'm happy to report that this semester hasn't been one of them. I've been kept busy, but I feel pretty good about it all,” Burgis said.

Sam Wakai, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said he initially thought it was strange that his professor would be so far removed, but later found that it was easier to contact him over the phone than to meet in person. 

Though he did not make use of Skype, Wakai contacted Burgis over the phone whenever he had questions or issues. This was a medium of communication that worked for both him and his professor, he said. 

Weekly forum posts assigned by Burgis required students to follow up with a response on Sundays, which was difficult at the time for Wakai. He said at times he received feedback later than expected, making it difficult to respond in a timely manner.

“I guess the main difference would be that a class like philosophy would be a lot easier if you had someone in front of the class explaining the content not only because we could immediately ask questions but also there's times where the philosophers we read about use weird wording making a lot of the readings a little unclear,” Wakai said. “But the professor did a good job adding his input into the reading notes so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.”

Christian Zapata

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