Teaching in the Time of Coronavirus

With campus closed, this teacher and her class move online

By SAYANTIKA MANDAL MFA ’19, USF News Posted Mon, 03/30/2020 - 15:00

As a first-time teacher, I was already nervous about teaching my Introduction to Creative Writing class.

Then I learned I had to switch to teaching it online.

Preparations were frantic. Educational Technology Services (ETS) hosted Zoom workshops to teach online instruction. Email threads with department faculty were flooded with ideas on how to conduct classes. Professors experienced in online teaching held practice sessions on Zoom to help others learn good technique.

I accepted the help of senior colleagues in the English and the MFA programs to plan my first class.

First-Class Jitters

I prepared, but still I worried if students would engage. I clicked the “start meeting” button on Zoom at the scheduled class time, anxious that only a few students would turn up. However, except for four students who were traveling, I saw 16 eager faces on the screen.

It was strange to see my students online instead of in their usual seats in Lone Mountain 140, but it was reassuring to see them safe in their homes.

Questions poured in from the little windows on my screen. “Are we going to meet every class time on Zoom?” “Will the Zoom link be the same for all classes?” “How will we do our reading responses?” “Will we use a discussion board on Canvas?”

I devoted the first half of the class to answering their questions, charting a course for the rest of the semester. Students shared their ideas about how to make things work more smoothly. The class went on, and barring a few hiccups — like patchy Wi-Fi or a dog barking in the background when a student began to talk — I shifted to my lecture as I would in the actual classroom, using the “whiteboard” feature on Zoom.

Classroom Community

I was anxious that without my physical presence and supervision, my students would soon lose interest. I missed the classroom, the lectern, and the whiteboard as I fumbled with tabs on my screen. But my students’ smiling faces kept me going, as they shared their thoughts about the class topic.

They used the “raise your hand” feature on Zoom and took turns voicing their opinions to make it as close as possible to a classroom discussion.

My students missed the classroom, too. When I asked them to choose how they wanted to do presentations for an assignment, they elected to present during class time over Zoom rather than uploading videos separately. They wanted the connection of the class community.

It was challenging to keep track of all the students on my screen, but their questions helped keep me and our discussion on track. By the end of that first session, I felt more relaxed about online teaching — and felt relieved to discover that my students and I can help each other, from a distance, to write stories.