With the serious health threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Nevada, Reno has moved to remote instruction for their students. In the College of Education, professors are finding ways to continue their classes despite the many challenges this new crisis presents.
“Given that I've only ever taught in person, the shift to online has been a little bit difficult,” Assistant Professor of Science Education Candice Guy-Gaytán said. “I teach elementary science methods, which is how to teach elementary school science. That course includes interacting with your peers to make sense of some naturally occurring phenomenon in the world. It requires a lot of peer-to-peer interaction in K-12 classrooms.”
Guy-Gaytán has tried to maintain the elements of observation and interaction that characterized the class before classes were shifted to remote instruction. She asks students to maintain a science journal and post on discussion boards to think of how to create investigations into what they noticed.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch our faculty overcome what seemed like the impossible in a matter of days while maintaining a world-class education for our students,” Donald Easton-Brooks, dean of the College of Education, said. “It just goes to show that in a time of adversity and uncertainty, we, as Nevadans, can step up to a challenge and overcome anything that is thrown our way. I’m so proud of our students and our faculty because this was not an easy task.”
The University has provided an in-depth frequently asked questions page to help professors shift their classes into an online environment and the College of Education provided a supplemental FAQ specifically for its students. For students with limited technology, the University offers student resources that include information about how to get free internet access and utilize the Canvas student mobile app.
“I know that there are still technical issues and there are still some challenges,” Associate Dean of Academics and Undergraduate Programs and Professor of Multicultural Education Eleni Oikonomidoy said.
“I think in the big picture, the fact that we've been working remotely without any time to prepare and we're able to fulfill most of our duties is remarkable.”
Oikonomidoy said that faculty are creating alternative assignments for students who would’ve had to travel to classrooms, a now impossible task. Some professors ask students to write their observations of available P-12 classroom videos while others invite them to envision themselves teaching during the outbreak of a pandemic.
“They are encouraging students to put themselves in a position of current teachers and say how they would adjust their instruction if they were suddenly asked to adapt,” Oikonomidoy said. Simultaneously, tutoring has transitioned to videoconferencing. Group work and presentations have been transitioned to online formats.
Although the unexpected shift into a new setting can be difficult, online classes have plenty to offer in their own right. Oikonomidoy, who has been teaching online for many years, said interaction into an online classroom is a simultaneously difficult and rewarding task. Of course, online instruction is a purposeful and thoughtful endeavor that requires a great degree of preparation. A luxury that most did not have during our transition.
“Students who do work full-time, students who are caregivers, are able to work asynchronously,” Guy-Gaytán said. “I think it does allow for that flexibility.”
Although there are a lot of complications involved with shifting an entire course onto the internet, many professors are working to make sure that their students are safe and healthy.
“One thing that I saw the other day that helped me reframe things is that we're not just working from home but working at home during a global pandemic, which, you know, are two very different things,” Guy-Gaytán said. “I'm trying to be cognizant of the challenges that my own students are facing.”
Oikonomidoy said although online classes are sometimes considered static, they don’t need to be. Professors can try to be responsive to student needs.
“We're all trying as best as we can,” Guy-Gaytán said. “I think that there are very different ways to make it happen. I want our students to know that we're trying on the backend, and it may seem a little bit unorganized in some cases, but I think we're all trying to make it work in whatever ways we can.”