As Students Get Accustomed to Moving Online, Professors Do the Same


Santiago Ochoa

Both students and professors are finding new ways to get the most out of their time behind the screen.

Ryan Lanxton, Writer

With the transition to an online format for classes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, students have had to change how they work and learn. 

On Wednesday, March 11, all face-to-face classes at UM-Flint were cancelled for the remainder of the academic semester. Instead of sitting in a lecture and taking scantron exams, many students now watch pre-recorded lessons and take quizzes on BlackBoard. 

However, professors and lecturers have also had to make the massive transition, some easier than others. This sudden change in course for thousands of campus members left many educators scrambling to translate their in-person classes to an online format. 

Courses that do not require much hands-on work have been able to transition online easier than others. Some of these fields include the social sciences, history and foreign languages.

“Because the transition happened so quickly it was more difficult to make sure all elements of a course were in place to ensure equitable access for students,” said Douglas Knerr, a professor in the history department.

Knerr’s classes have gone through a much smoother transition due to the lecture and conversation-based course build. However, he does see the challenge other disciplines face.

“I have no question about the faculty’s ability to handle this transition, although we have to recognize that some disciplines face more challenges than others,” said Knerr.

Some of the disciplines that face more difficult transitions include the hard sciences, such as physics and engineering. Many of these classes have lab components that often require students to work with different machines that simply aren’t available at home.

James Alsup, PhD, a physics professor teaching two courses this semester, said some students working on their final projects have been unable to complete some of their lab work. 

Right as it was playing out, we were trying to figure out a way to let students come in and work on their projects individually,” said Alsup, referencing the time before the stay-at-home executive order was issued.

Because campus is closed, some of these students’ lab grades are incomplete. Alsup said several departments are working to figure out a way to supplement these grades as soon as possible. 

Moreso, Alsup thinks all other components of his classes have translated well to the online format. Using BlackBoard Collaborate Ultra, he is able to record his lectures beforehand and host classes online where he is able to answer any questions his students may have.

“I thought it was going to be a disaster. And our staff, they did a great job helping the faculty move off of campus, as well. I really appreciate how hard students, staff and faculty involved have all done it,” said Alsup.

The mass transition to online classes also raises the question if there is any loss in level of education. Students may find it harder to keep up with online classes and might prefer the traditional classroom setting.

“Quality and rigor can be enhanced by online instruction, or it can diminish it. It depends on the course design, particularly the amount of interaction in the course, and the instructor’s facility with the material and the mode of instruction,” said Knerr.  

The future of online classes may also be changed. As it becomes apparent many classes can easily be hosted online, universities may look into offering more online classes due to the ease and convenience they can provide.

“I think online formats are the future. I don’t know if it’s a feature for 100 percent of classes in particular, our labs are extremely difficult to move online, but I think it’s going to play a bigger role in the future,” said Alsup.