Rutgers professors discuss experience with remote teaching

While some professors at the University said they prefer face-to-face learning, others said they like having asynchronous classes and allowing students to work at their own pace in their own environment.
Photo by Pixabay While some professors at the University said they prefer face-to-face learning, others said they like having asynchronous classes and allowing students to work at their own pace in their own environment.

Rutgers students are not the only ones having to adjust to remote learning this fall. Professors have also had to adapt to the virtual environment and face their own difficulties in the development of teaching plans. 

Clifford Pristas, professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, said he has found remote instruction to be difficult and much prefers face-to-face teaching. One major thing missing from online learning is the ability to see students’ expressions and gauge if they are grasping the material or not, Pristas said.

Amy Higer, professor in the Department of Political Science, said her transition has been somewhat smooth so far due to her several years of experience in teaching online courses. Higer said she does miss seeing her students and conducting classes face-to-face, though.

“Every class is a challenge ... ,” said Jerry Flieger, professor in both the Department of French and Comparative Literature. “(Although), I find the students go out of their way to be cooperative, patient and participatory — a real sense that we are all in this together.”

Arnold Lau, professor in the Department of Computer Science, said he believes professors were able to learn from the previous semester in order to better adapt courses for this fall.

“I think all instructors have put a tremendous amount of time into reworking their course material so that their classes are both effective and accessible,” said Rebecca Givan, associate professor in Labor Studies and Employment Relations and vice president of the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers.

Lau said he is focused on increasing engagement and providing flexibility for his students this semester. He said he has decided to hold classes asynchronously to aid students in different time zones, but said he will make himself available at any time for those in need of extra help. Lau said the layout of the course has been adjusted as well to better fit online instruction.

Flieger is holding her classes synchronously, and said she believes interaction is absolutely essential in education. She also said it took all summer to develop her courses and the process has been very time consuming. 

Higer said she will also be conducting classes synchronously for many reasons, one of the most important being so that students have the ability to engage and discuss with peers. She said the meetings will also be recorded and those who cannot join for whatever reason will not be penalized, though.

“Remote teaching has provided me with new ways of thinking about courses I have been teaching for years,” Higer said. “I have more creative assignments, more engaging content and new ways of trying to engage students.”

While the professors did mention some positives to remote learning, like flexibility and picking up new techniques, they said there have been difficulties as well.

Lau said that for him, effectively managing multiple channels of communication has been a challenge. He said he has also had to upgrade his network to accommodate for the heavy traffic from himself and his family. 

Flieger said she has been having technical difficulties that are both major and chronic, and will explore different systems until she finds one that works best.

“The University system drops the connections at least five or six times per class, requiring me to sign on again and start over,” Flieger said. “The screen share, essential for my presentations, has not worked for any of the classes the first week.”

Higer said she feels a large problem this fall are class sizes and would feel better if they were adapted to meet “best practice” standards for online teaching. 

“It’s impossible for teachers to provide this essential feedback to students in class sizes larger than 20, especially (if) teachers are teaching (three) or more online courses,” Higer said. 

Givan said many teachers don't have spaces at home that are well-suited for teaching. Typically, she would use a whiteboard and walk around the room a lot to engage her class, but now she has to adapt new strategies for engagement. Her classes are also heavily discussion-based and she has had to figure out a way to maintain this structure as well, Givan said.

While Lau said many changes have been made to adjust to remote instruction, he expects more changes as professors work to continually improve the online experience.