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Central Washington University

CWU Instructors Discover the Benefits, Drawbacks of Online Teaching

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Spring quarter has been anything but a smooth ride for CWU instructors, not to mention their students.

When classes were moved online in late March due to the statewide stay-at-home order, higher education institutions around the country quickly had to figure out how to make the most of a new, hastily defined educational experience.

Under a tight timeline, each CWU department created impromptu plans for virtual instruction, even if the online-only concept didn’t conform with their goals for a particular course. Most had little or no online teaching experience, which meant they had to reinvent their approaches just a few weeks before the quarter was scheduled to get underway. When music classes and science labs also were moved online, many professors and lecturers on campus were presented with an even greater challenge.

But now that the spring term is winding down, a growing number of CWU faculty members say they have discovered an unexpected appreciation for online teaching. Some even plan to incorporate various elements of remote instruction into their future lesson plans. Here’s a look at what some instructors have been doing this spring to make the most of the current situation:

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Health Sciences

For health sciences majors, nothing can truly replace the in-person laboratory experience. With that in mind, CWU lecturers Ryan Galindo and Hillary Conner have been working overtime this spring to ensure that their students come away with the knowledge and skills they will need to join the professional ranks.

While the transition to online instruction has taken time — and lots of patience — Galindo and Conner have landed on an effective method of teaching virtual lab classes.

“With our anatomy class, we shot several bite-size video clips of everything we do in the lab,” Galindo said. “We were able to get special permission from the cadaver lab for filming rights, and once we got permission, we just uploaded the videos so our students could access them at any time.” 

Each of the nearly 30 videos focuses on one specific area (e.g., muscle groups), and each lesson is posted using the Canvas Learning Management System. Galindo and Conner say the student response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Our labs are an hour and 50 minutes, and they can be pretty intense,” Conner said. “But with the videos, our students can learn in smaller, more digestible chunks. We’ve heard really positive feedback about the videos, and the students appreciate how we’re putting all the lessons into shorter clips.”

Other tools Galindo and Conner have been using to adjust to a virtual teaching environment are Zoom for video conferencing and Blackboard Learn Ultra for interactive instruction. Expanding their availability on email has been another plus for their students.

“Our students can reach out any time of day,” Galindo said. “Because they can’t reach us face-to-face right now, we wanted to make ourselves 100 percent accessible via email.”

Both instructors also credited CWU Multimodal Learning for assisting with the transition. And while Galindo and Conner would prefer to be working with their students in person, they say the past two months have opened their eyes to what is possible for future anatomy courses.

“The ideal setting would be having students in class with us — nothing can replace that,” Conner said. “But this situation gave us an opportunity to find a silver lining.”

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Chemistry

CWU chemistry lecturer Marissa Barrientos came into the online-only spring quarter with something of an advantage. As the host of a video podcast called the “Healthy Talk Show,” she has extensive experience working with a virtual communication tool called Twitch.

Gamers, musicians, and entertainers often gravitate to Twitch because it offers superior live interaction capabilities than similar platforms, such as Zoom. Barrientos, who teaches two general chemistry classes at CWU, had a feeling the website could benefit her and her students in an online-only class setting. Her hunch ended up being correct.

“Twitch offers just the right amount of interaction,” she said. “There’s a chat room so my students can ask me questions and participate in the discussion. They can also answer each other’s questions and I can provide instant feedback to make sure they’re understanding the lecture.”

Barrientos also can post polls in the chat room, walk the class through math equations step-by-step, and monitor interactions (with help from bots) to ensure the conversations remain positive and on-topic. The main advantage, she said, is being able to communicate directly with her students and track their progress in real time.

“The most important thing for students is to have that back and forth with their instructor,” she said. “You need to have your questions answered, and Twitch allows for the live interaction that you don’t get when you’re watching a pre-recorded lecture.”

Barrientos also posts her lectures on YouTube, allowing her students — about 120 total — to watch the lessons on their own time. While nothing can replace a true in-person educational experience, Barrientos believes she has found a happy medium.

“It’s still not the same as seeing their faces and having that energy you get in a classroom learning environment,” she said. “But my students have responded very positively so far.” 

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Music

Just like the science instructors on campus, Mark Samples and his music department colleagues weren’t entirely sure how they would transition to an online-only modality.

They knew some elements, such as one-on-one mentoring, would be difficult to replicate no matter which video conferencing system they selected. In his music history classes, he is finding ways to make lecturing online more student-friendly. Instead of speaking continuously for 50 minutes — a tactic he had tried in the past — he has been breaking up his lectures into short sections.

“I’ve found that my students are responding very well to a video lecture that is broken up into five- or seven-minute segments,” he said. “This shouldn’t surprise me. It’s considered a best practice for teaching online. But I didn’t believe in it because I hadn’t done it. And it ended up being one of the best choices I’ve made this term.”

Samples said, in the past, he has recorded his lectures in Zoom and then uploaded them to Kaltura for streaming purposes. But this quarter, he has taken advantage of a tool being offered by Multimodal Learning called Panopto. The platform is built to capture pre-recorded lectures, and Samples has found that it interacts more completely with Canvas. Panopto is also more user-friendly when it comes to post production.

“You can do small edits on your videos and they update right away,” he said. “If I’m in the middle of a lecture and get interrupted, I can just pause and restart where I left off. It’s very easy to use and it has saved me a lot of time with video production.”

Samples said his History of Jazz and Music History students have expressed how much they appreciate the current online lecture format, given the circumstances. They’re also enjoying the fact that they can access the video lectures whenever they have time.

“Even in the midst of these crazy times, our students are showing up and they’re putting in the work,” he said. “We have to remind ourselves that our students are still here and they want to learn. I’m dedicated to figuring all of this out because it’s worth it for them.”

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Apparel, Textiles, and Merchandising

CWU Apparel, Textiles, and Merchandising professor Andrea Eklund has been busier than normal this spring. She is used to having a full plate, but this quarter has presented a whole new set of challenges for her classes. 

Because her instruction involves a great deal of hands-on training and visual learning, Eklund has been busy behind the scenes trying to recreate that mentoring experience online. She has been meeting with an average of seven students per day on Zoom, while at the same time developing dozens of instructional videos to post on Canvas. 

She also hosts bi-weekly meetings with her Fashion Line Development class, which is preparing for its annual spring fashion show.

“It’s been interesting because I still have to mentor them even though they’re doing everything from home,” Eklund said. “That’s been a challenge, and it has created a lot of extra work. But I want the students to be able to showcase their work, so it’s worth it.”

In a typical spring quarter, Eklund’s students would be preparing for their end-of-the-year fashion show to showcase their talents. But since all university events are on hold until further notice, this year’s ATM majors are hosting a virtual fashion show on June 12.

But the process hasn’t been easy. The students had to bring home sewing machines, half-size dress forms, and tools so they could design and construct three original garments for the presentation. Prior to the show, each student must submit 12 photos of the inside and outside of each garment to Eklund, who provides feedback through Zoom meetings. The designs will be submitted on June 1 for photos and videos, which will be compiled for the show.

The current online instruction format has taken some getting used to, but Eklund believes these young people may be benefitting in ways they haven’t yet considered.

“They’re learning to be more adaptable and they’re learning how to use new technology,” she said. “These are all skills that are going to help them when they graduate. So, I’m trying to look at everything they will gain rather than what they don’t get to do.”

Media contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs, david.leder@cwu.edu.

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