Professors around the world have switched to online instruction to promote social distancing and honor safer-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The University of Tulsa takes pride in the individual attention professors give students because of the low student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1, but under the current circumstances, the approach to that attention has shifted from in-person teaching and advising to online instructing and consultations.
Karen Cravens, director of TU’s School of Accounting and Computer Information Systems and Chapman Professor of Accounting, and Emily Contois, Chapman Assistant Professor of Media Studies, share how virtual teaching has actually brought them closer to students.
Behind the camera is a student
Cravens has taught online classes before but has been surprised this time by how rewarding interacting with students virtually has been. At the end of one remote advising session, her student jumped up after receiving a text from his mother that their dog had escaped the yard. Cravens emailed him later asking about the pet and he responded with a picture of his dog sticking her head out from a deck she had dug under. “In an office setting, students often don’t discuss much beyond schedules and career goals,” said Cravens. “It is a different and wonderful experience to have a conversation with them in their own home.”
In general, Cravens works to reassure students that if a problem occurs, they can find a solution. She remains conscious of her students’ perspectives during this transition to keep from creating any additional stress for them.
Beyond the academics of online teaching
Even though she’d worked previously in online instructional design, Contois knew she would be anxious about online course preparation over spring break. She decided to take the challenge head-on. One of her classes had to be completely asynchronous so the lectures needed to be posted ahead of time. Contois ended up recording them all in one day but wanted to keep the feeling of a weekly meeting. Her solution: changing her clothes – down to her jewelry – for each lecture. “I hope something silly like this can help make students feel at home in our course, even if it’s just me on their screen,” Contois said. The most important element to her online instruction, however, has been checking in with her students not just as learners, but also as people who might be struggling to meet the new obstacles presented by virtual learning. In her asynchronous class, Contois added optional questions to homework assignments for students to share selfies and updates on how they are feeling during these difficult times.