The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday March 30th

Students, professors use new methods to form connections through the computer screen

DTH Photo Illustration. Professors are working to provide assistance to students during the current transition.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. Professors are working to provide assistance to students during the current transition.

With lectures, discussions and office hours conducted virtually this semester, UNC professors have found alternative ways to form relationships and promote engagement with their students. 

Junior Jose Rodriguez Gomez, said virtual instruction can interfere with connections between students and professors by limiting opportunities for conversation. But he said his professors are still making efforts to get to know him and accommodate the challenges he faces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said his professor in his Spanish class reached out to him last week when he forgot to take a quiz, to see if he was facing hardships. After talking to him, Rodriguez Gomez said the professor extended the quiz online. 

During the first week of classes, Rodriguez Gomez said his political science professor sent out a questionnaire to get to know his students. He said that before each class session, the professor plays music that a student listed as their favorite on the questionnaire. 

“Every time before class starts, he also tries to get to know every student in the first five minutes of class," Rodriguez Gomez said. "He calls on a student and just converses with them a little bit to see what their life is like or to sometimes tell them a joke.”

Manda Maples, an art history professor, is engaging students through technology tools. Maples said she employs polls, break-out rooms, active discussion in virtual recitations, voice thread software on Sakai and live tours of art exhibits. 

Over the course of the semester, Maples said she has led live virtual tours through art exhibits at the North Carolina Museum of Art and the Ackland Art Museum. 

“At the NCMA, I had a videographer at the museum follow me and zoom in on objects and (the students) could ask questions about what they wanted to hear more about," Maples said. "It was as close as we could get to them being in the room with me.”

Blake Ryan, a sophomore and student of Maples, said the professor is always cheerful and tries to stimulate interest among students in African art, her specialization. 

“(The tour) showed her actual dedication to her job and work more so than her giving us Zoom lectures did,” Ryan said. “I think seeing the real passion and readiness to share the material is something we are missing from teachers with online classes.”

Suzanne Globetti, a political science professor, said the hardest part of teaching during the pandemic has been the absence of connection with students. She said Zoom is more of an awkward environment, and that she misses students talking to her before and after an in-person class.

“Even if someone does not talk, I usually know where they sit in the classroom, and I know what they look like and I know what they are doing during class,” Globetti said. “As an online instructor, I don’t require cameras to be turned on in my class. There are some students that I don't even know what they look like or sound like.”

Globetti said she tries to facilitate interaction in various ways. Her syllabus instructs students to introduce themselves during virtual office hours. At the start of classes, Globetti sent out a questionnaire and assigned students to post bios to a discussion forum. 

“I am doing the best I can,” Globetti said. “I do miss the in-person classes because I love meeting students and it's harder online.”

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