Professors Focused on Adaptation During All Online Semester

With COVID-19 barring students from returning to campus, Eastern New Mexico University professors are learning on the job how to provide the best education they can.

The transition from classrooms to Zoom has proven difficult for some students, with having to manage which Zoom links are up to date, audio not coming through, calls dropping out, and other technical interruptions. Without a safe alternative that complies to New Mexico health restrictions, distance learning proves to be the only viable option for students to continue their education.

According to instructors Edward Caffrey and Rick Shepardson, ENMU and its faculty were initially planning to return in the fall with strict guidelines in place to create a safe environment without transmission. These plans changed when the state of New Mexico renewed health restrictions in response to rising infection rates, requiring the university to quickly adjust and set the instructors on developing fully online courses.

“There’s a lot of moving parts” said Caffrey. “It’s been a lot of communication from the governor, down to individual instructors, and I think we made the right call”.

Both instructors express that many of the challenges in this transition come from unexpected problems students may have, such as limited access to high speed internet where they live or having to tend to their children during Zoom lectures. Due to the unpredictable nature of students’ lives and resources, instructors have been encouraged to be lenient with students in matters of attendance and in-class participation which could prove harder for some.

From Shepardson’s account, the lack of immediacy has required him to adapt his teaching style, as he would normally encourage group work and wander the classroom to check up on students. With no way to test how to facilitate a similar environment online, he has had to experiment in the early weeks of the semester by splitting students up into separate meetings and jumping between calls. A similar challenge presented itself to Caffrey with his photography class, where he would normally have students take pictures during class time and then critique each other. Now he collects students’ photos that they take on their own time, on their own cameras, and shuffle them into a PowerPoint presentation for anonymous feedback.

Due to this semester’s improvisational nature, Shepardson asks that students be direct and constructive with their instructors about what is and is not working. That way, teachers can cooperate with them to develop solutions amidst an already harried year.

“What we strive for is student success, and that’s not just good grades, it’s your students are given the opportunity to do the best they can do,” said Caffrey. “We have to reach each student individually if we have to and say, ‘what do you need’ and ‘how can I help you succeed in this different environment’.”

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