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Here's what professors want you to know about the switch to online learning

DTH Photo Illustration. A student sits at a desk on March 16, 2020. UNC students and professors are preparing for online instruction.

UNC students will switch out classrooms and commutes for laptops and video lectures on Monday as the University begins its first week of remote classes, designed to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Professors, like students, are adjusting to the unexpected switch that has affected schools across the country. 

For Lorraine Cramer, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, the situation is “timely" — her 200-student lecture, MCRO 251: Introductory Medical Microbiology has been using the coronavirus as a teaching tool all semester, and will continue doing so. 

Cramer said her course will not change as much as some, because she already records and uploads her lectures online. But she’s now offering her students the option to start homework assignments early, in addition to providing learning objectives to keep them on track. 

Cramer said she believes in accepting the new normal. She said she's trying to maintain the course with as few changes as possible, and urges students to do the same with their study habits. 

Creating an at-home space for school work can help, she said. 

“It’s important to get back to having the normal educational environment. So we think that everybody should find a place they can study in their house. It might be hard to do... but I think that establishing a study area where you can go and study and kind of be back in a school situation, I think is important,” Cramer said. 

Duane Deardorff, the director of undergraduate laboratories and an associate teaching professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, emphasized the importance of not feeling isolated while social distancing and learning at home. While he believes practicing physical isolation is necessary, he said that doesn’t require a total shutoff from loved ones. 

“This is a difficult time for all of us, and while social distancing is the new norm, it should probably be called 'physical distancing' since it is important for everyone to still stay connected socially," Deardorff said. "We all need support from friends and family members, so remember to physically isolate, but don’t socially isolate.”

In regards to logistics, Deardorff hopes students get familiar with Zoom and alternate platforms or tools that online classes may incorporate ahead of time. While it varies from department and professor, he said some will require digital completion of assignments and others will prefer taking a photo of written work. 

“Find a good scanning app, if you do not have one already, that can convert photos into PDF documents — many instructors will expect you to be able to do this on your own, so be prepared," Deardorff said. "Some free apps that are recommended for this purpose are Dropbox, Evernote and CamScanner.” 

Both Deardorff and Cramer said they are willing to work with students as they enter this period of adjustment. 

Patrick Harrison, a teaching assistant professor and director of instructional development in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, said he recognizes the importance of mutual flexibility. He urges students to utilize the resources available to them and allow themselves to adjust, just as professors will need some time to do. 

“Be kind to yourself — we are truly in this together," Harrison said. "If you need extra assistance, reach out. Although it is helpful to create a routine, be aware that things change. 

It's okay to feel unsure, he said.

"If you are worried about the future, just remember that all students — across campus and around the world — are in the same boat," he said. "Yes, this is anxiety-provoking. Many students are their own harshest critics. Give yourself a break. We are truly in this together.”

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