The first day of online classes for UNC students and faculty began Monday, and with it came new course routines, mental health challenges and adjustments to remote instruction.
How class material is communicated online often depends on the discipline, class and instructor.
Viji Sathy is a psychology professor who teaches PSYC 210: Statistical Principles of Psychological Research and PSYC 89, a first-year seminar, this semester. As someone who had been using Zoom for office hours and meetings before the COVID-19 outbreak, she said the difficulty for her was not learning how to use the technology, but rather simulating the classroom environment.
Sathy held both of her classes Monday over Zoom. She said both went better than she expected, though it was easier to lead her PSYC 89 course of about 20 students than her larger lecture class.
But not all professors are following the same teaching model.
In biology professor Kelly Hogan’s BIOL 101: Principles of Biology course, students will receive recorded lectures instead of meeting together. They will then complete learning activities on their own time.
When designing her course for the rest of the semester, Hogan said she had inclusivity in mind.
“There is so much diversity out there,” she said. “For some students, maybe they’re in a rural area, and it’s bandwidth issues. But for other students, it’s not an issue around broadband, but they have a busy household.”
Hogan also pointed out that some students may have to seek employment to support their households because their parents are out of work.
“There’s just all kinds of reasons why getting online at the same time was stressful to students,” she said.
She said the downside to asynchronous teaching was social isolation. But she plans to combat this by checking in with students and making sure to present them with lots of options.
Sathy said she also views the new setup as an opportunity to try out different instructional tools. She said she wants to give students flexibility for deadlines, completing assignments and continuing to learn because the extent COVID-19 is unknown.
“All of us are going to be impacted,” Sathy said. “It’s just a numbers thing.”
Journalism professor John Robinson, who teaches MEJO 625: Media Hub and MEJO 356: Feature Writing, said he did his best to keep class lighthearted.
Robinson said he realized students in his Media Hub class were using Zoom’s chat feature to laugh about something unrelated to the class topic. He said he wasn’t bothered because his main goal in the first class session was to welcome his students back.
“They need to come back and have fun,” Robinson said.
He said his main concern is that students feel comfortable reaching out to him to ask questions. Though he said he is still perfecting some Zoom features and adjusting his teaching style to the new situation, he views it as a learning experience for his students.
He said while remote learning will be difficult for some of his students because it changes the way they work, that is not necessarily a bad thing.
“Learning how to do this (reporting) in a time of crisis is a wonderful educational opportunity,” Robinson said. “That’s what education is about — learning how to do something different.”
Fatima Konsouh, a first-year business administration major, said the new style of instruction will take some adjusting.
Although some of her classes changed their attendance policies and the final exam style, she said some of the accommodations have actually made it harder to balance with other classes’ demands.
She also said the challenges of working and learning remotely — like finding a quiet space, re-adjusting to being at home and managing COVID-19 related anxieties — are bigger than most people think.
Mitch Prinstein, a professor of psychology and neuroscience and assistant dean of Honors Carolina, agreed. He said many students’ concerns are not directly related to technological access.
Based on student feedback Prinstein has received, he said students' mental and emotional health seem to be the overall concern. He said these issues might interfere with people’s abilities to focus on academics.
In addition to developing support programs for students, Prinstein said he plans to talk about these challenges with his class.
“We’re going to be spending a lot of time talking about generally emotional well being, how to think about how much work is reasonable to get done during this time and why we shouldn’t think about work at home as a time to get more work done,” Prinstein said.
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