Remote learning

Greg Simon, assistant professor of composition, has taught collegiate-level courses for 13 years. But until this year, he hasn’t faced challenges like teaching online music courses and providing one-on-one instruction to students.

Simon said faculty understand this is a frustrating situation for students, but they are dedicated to providing a good experience regardless of circumstance.

“We all as faculty have feelings about remote learning and about the challenges that it brings, but I think we all also decided early on — or certainly I did — that whatever my feelings about online learning, I was going to do the absolute best I could to not let them affect the experience of my students,” Simon said.

Simon spoke highly of his students’ ability to adapt and overcome their own challenges.

“A lot of my students have been unbelievably inspiring in the ability that they have demonstrated to be creative and dedicate themselves to their work in the face of the pandemic,” Simon said.

Kevin Hanrahan, associate professor of voice and vocal pedagogy at UNL, said in an email that it was a difficult adjustment for faculty to switch over to online learning environments. Many, he said, were opposed at first, but now they are seeing the upsides.

“I think what many [faculty members] are finding is that they can reach more people with asynchronous online courses, and it gives them more time to focus on other things like research, other courses that are more labor-intensive and just taking care of themselves and their families,” Hanrahan said in an email. 

David Woodman, professor of practice in biological sciences at UNL, said he teaches anatomy and physiology courses to roughly 300 students each semester, now in a completely online setting.

Woodman, with the help of his teaching assistants, said he has been able to adapt to the challenges of lower attendance and student engagement through live lectures and quizzes where students can ask questions in real-time. 

“When I [taught] in March this last year, that attendance did take a hit and I don’t blame students,” Woodman said. “It’s like, ‘I’ll just do it an hour later, I’ll go do something else, etc.’” Simon said that one of the biggest challenges he has faced teaching online has been overcoming technological barriers in order to engage with his students. 

“I’m trying my absolute hardest to make sure that the learning curve for technology is addressed,” Simon said. “If I’m going to expect students to screen share as part of a group lesson or a group project in three or four weeks, my job is to make sure that by that time, they know how to do that.”

Hanrahan said he faced challenges switching his vocal courses to online because of the large amount of technological equipment required to provide a good learning environment for students. Despite these challenges, Hanrahan said there were positives to teaching online.

“I find that discussions are deeper, and more people participate in the online environment than in person,” Hanrahan said. “Also, I think online with all the videos and content the professor creates for the course allows the students more time to digest the material, or at the very least, gives them the opportunity to work through it at their pace, not mine.”

Woodman said student engagement has gone up, with students asking more questions and responding to his own questions more than during in-person lectures.

Simon said it is important for students to let their instructors know how they are feeling, especially right now.

“Even if the baseline for what you have been able to achieve during the pandemic has been to show up, do the work and go home, I guarantee you there is a professor that is looking at you with awe because of that,” Simon said. “That in and of itself, the ability to just show up and do the work right now, that shows me a level of resilience and perseverance that I couldn’t not be inspired by.”

Woodman said he is optimistic about the future of higher education and urged students to not give up.

“Understand that this is going to end,” Woodman said. “All of this is going to get better, and once it gets better maybe we’ll have some new ways of instruction, maybe some new ways of learning, but I do think it’ll be something that will benefit everyone in the long run.”