With online learning has come a widened gap between teachers and students in Rutgers’ virtual classrooms over the course of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, said several students and faculty in their experience.
Next semester, approximately 25 percent of courses will remain entirely online while others will at least have an online component with hybrid instruction, The Daily Targum previously reported. Students and faculty shared what they think the other should know about their experience so far with online schooling and consider implementing for the fall semester.
Kay Bidle, a professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, said it has been difficult to interact with students online because the visual cues of classroom communication, such as facial expressions that indicate if a student understands a concept, have been lost.
“(Visual interaction in the) virtual environment has been difficult, because we can't engage and interact as well with most of the students we're meant to do that with,” he said.
Jenny Mandelbaum, a professor in the School of Communication and Information, said keeping cameras on can improve this visual engagement.
“I'm probably not alone in saying I really wish students would be able to keep their cameras on, especially in smaller classes,” she said. “I understand this is difficult or impossible for some students, but it makes a big difference to the feeling of community and mutual engagement in a class.”
Several students said their professors in general have been understanding and reasonably accommodating regarding the challenges presented by online schooling.
“I think, given the circumstances, the professors conducted the classes the best they can,” said Kyra Kayal, a School of Engineering first-year. “I think the one thing they should change is to check understanding during lecture because it is easy to get lost and confused in a remote setting.”
Divya Bhagat, a Rutgers Business School senior, said professors should know about the demotivation students experience that contributes to a negative classroom experience.
“I feel like it is hard to do the work because there isn't that part of life where people are getting recharged,” she said. “They are stuck at home. So it’s hard (not to) get recuperated from all the work as we all usually do in school by seeing friends, going to get food in the dining hall as a break.”
One thing she wishes professors would do more of is grant time in class for students to work on any group projects they are doing for their particular class. She said professors used to do this more pre-pandemic.
Nikhil Ramavenkat, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said he feels the lack of interaction in his classes has made them dull, impacting his comprehension of class material. He thinks some class schedules are designed for the professor’s comfort rather than the students’ and wishes more professors provided flexible deadlines to accommodate for stressors arising from the pandemic.
“I wish professors were more understanding of the fact that they simply cannot hold the class to the same standard as they can when the pandemic wasn't around,” he said. “Our current circumstances have shifted priorities for a lot of students, yet professors continue to cram material in the same exact fashion as they would in a normal semester.”
Andrew Urban, an associate professor in the Department of History, shared a similar view that the pandemic and other societal issues, such as the protests following the killing of George Floyd and the 2020 presidential election, warrant a change in expectations.
“I was really dismayed to hear from some of my students that in some of their classes, instructors had increased workloads or had been disciplinarians when it came to attendance,” he said. “This seemed so dangerously lacking in empathy, when there was no way to know what a student was dealing with outside of class, and when the Rutgers administration was not providing the assistance that students needed.”
All three professors said the novelty of virtual schooling affected their lesson structure and brought difficulties readjusting their teaching to fit the new learning environment.
“We're all doing our very best to make our classes into the best possible experience for our students,” Mandelbaum said. “For many of us online teaching is a new and very time-consuming experience. We hope that students feel able to be in touch as problems and challenges arise.”
Urban said when students consider the overall toll the pandemic has taken on various communities, he hopes they also realize many Rutgers employees have lost their jobs despite the University’s resources, or lost loved ones to COVID-19.
“For faculty who are parents, childcare and questions about whether it is safe to send children to daycare and school have been incredibly taxing,” he said. “None of us signed up to teach all our courses online, and to adjust our lesson plans and teaching style to fit the medium. This required a lot of learning on our parts. We miss our routines as well.”