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For online old hands, a pandemic predicament

  • Wednesday, April 22, 2020
    Dr. B. Mark Zockoll Jr.

    Editor's note: For some college faculty members, teaching online is a familiar task that has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is another essay from the frontlines.

    By Mark Zockoll

    Having taught online since 2014, moving face-to-face courses online over the 2020 spring break simply meant for me moving between comfort zones, and better yet, the commute went from miles to mere steps! 

    I take pride in my ability to quickly recreate much of a face-to-face course in an appropriate - and even creative - online environment.  The pleasant transition that I perceived would take place, however, proved instead to be rough and scratchy for certain students. 

    The reverse is absolutely the case; students previously busy on-campus now find time to focus on material without as many social distractions while engaging some of these quarantined students sometimes proves exceptionally difficult. 

    These forced-online learners differ significantly from those in my past who intentionally chose distance learning.  I've watched students who faithfully completed face-to-face work struggle with online assignments.  Students quick to communicate with me in-person seem to feel disconnected when they struggle to present their thoughts and questions by email. 

    Synchronous sessions, as cool as they are, result in emails of frustration from those wanting to participate but whose bandwidth isn't strong enough to sustain the stream. 

    In previous semesters, Google Forms allowed me to create, send and review surveys including content specific queries and simple check-in questions such as “How are you doing in the course?,” or “How comfortable are you in this course?” 

    Recently, I've dusted off, updated and sent out these Forms to this unique cohort of online learners.  Some of the open responses have allowed for conversations concerning basic personal scheduling, proper daily routines, online learning techniques, recommendations for technology investment and even a recognition of the demands placed on the student to do the required reading. 

    I recognize now the value of these affective measurements as starting points for these students who grapple with the transfer from on-campus to online instruction. 

    At this point, though, I do miss trying to creatively engage the “hood-up-eyes-down” students in face-to-face settings. 

    What is this distancing doing to me?

    Dr. B. Mark Zockoll Jr. is an adjunct instructor in the Department of English & Modern Languages and is teaching three sections of technical writing this semester.