UC instructors discuss varying experiences with online learning transitions
A laptop logged into a Zoom class sits on a table. University of California faculty members expressed their thoughts about the return to in-person instruction. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin staff)
University of California faculty members said they are still adjusting to in-person classes after transitioning back from online instruction.
Faculty across all UC campuses faced changing rules and regulations regarding their respective campus’s COVID-19 policies. UCLA extended remote instruction until Jan. 31 after initially announcing that classes would be remote until Jan. 18.
Professors across the UC said that although they felt the pressures of constantly switching from remote to in-person classes, they have grown accustomed to remote instruction.
Janet Becker, a UC San Diego engineering professor, said she experienced trouble learning how to use remote learning technology, such as utilizing an iPad for lectures. However, the experience allowed her to improve these skills, she added.
Brian Yacker, a lecturer at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business, said UCI provided resources to assist faculty with the transition to remote instruction.
Yacker also said that the help that UCI provided for faculty in the form of training was useful for acclimating to Zoom.
Faculty members said they also struggled to find substitute instructors if they became sick.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, professors did not know how to approach teaching if they became sick and were forced to find their own replacements to teach their classes, Becker said.
Since then, she said UCSD has created more resources for faculty in the form of committees that seek to provide representation and support for students and faculty.
UC instructors also noted increasing Zoom burnout with online learning.
Anthony Friscia, an associate adjunct professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA, said he is tired of the lack of interaction on Zoom. He said that online classes often end up with most students turning their cameras off.
“All I’m looking at is a screen of black boxes. And it’s … depressing and unsatisfying,” Friscia said.
Patricia Pierson, a literary journalism lecturer at UCI, said she also noticed a lack of participation.
“I also cannot truly know who is fully engaged in the discussion and who is not engaged, like … in the classroom live in person,” she said.
Becker added that she faced some difficulties with engaging students in an online learning environment, but that for the most part, there are always some students willing to engage.
“If you feel like you’re just talking to a screen and not engaging students, that’s really hard to entertain yourself because teaching is having that interaction and getting students to actively engage with you,” Becker said.
Yacker said he prefers in-person instruction because it provides students with a better learning experience. He added that he misses in-person interactions and that the lack of interaction limits students’ experiences.
Friscia said UCLA professors were offered two extra weeks to teach online if they preferred, even after the return to in-person classes.
Many professors, however, chose to save the two weeks so they could teach from their home instead of taking a sick day, said Timothy Taylor, a UCLA ethnomusicology professor.
Shanna Shaked, senior associate director of the UCLA Center for Education Innovation and Learning in the Sciences, said in an emailed statement that she favors online school more because of the flexibility, but to mimic the human connection of in-person learning, she introduced student check-ins during class time where students could just have regular conversations.
Shaked also said that the courses she teaches were not designed to be online, so she thinks many of her students learn less online than they would in person because of distractions present when trying to engage remotely.
“Education research shows that students who talk more about the material generally learn more,” Shaked said. “This is possible online, but generally requires more expertise and support in online teaching.”
Becker added that students and faculty should both be more empathetic during this time.
“There are pressures on faculty, and if students recognize that – if everyone’s just considerate and compassionate of each other – you find a middle ground,” Becker said.