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Professors face ‘really weird planning problems’ and other concerns this fall

Last fall semester, Miami University professors stood at the front of a classroom, leading discussions, fielding questions and presenting lectures in person. This fall semester, that scene looks quite different due to a sudden change in plans: online classes for the first five weeks.

The decision  — part of the new phased-in approach — left students grappling with changes for housing and academic purposes and put professors to the test in both the classroom and online.

Annie-Laurie Blair, an assistant clinical lecturer in journalism, admitted she didn’t know what some of her class projects would look like in the fall with these new changes in place.

Outside of teaching, Blair is also an affiliate of the Miami Center for Teaching Excellence and has studied practices for online teaching. She said online teaching and face-to-face teaching are two completely different methods of engaging with students. 

“We haven’t truly had a lot of time to think through the best practices being online,” Blair said. “It’s hard even for me and I have taught online.”

Blair said the news did not come as a surprise to her, as Ohio’s coronavirus case numbers had been consistently growing throughout the course of the summer. 

Johnathon Mauk, an assistant teaching professor in the English department, said the news actually came as a relief to him. 

“The situation kind of felt like a powder keg,” Mauk said. “Here come 15,000 students in a county that is escalating [in coronavirus cases]. It just seemed like really bad chemistry.”

That being said, Mauk said he has spent more time and work on his syllabi this summer than he ever has. 

“All summer long I’ve been trying to make (my classes) as coherent and rich as possible,” Mauk said. 

From a survey conducted in early July by Miami provost Jason Osborne, 26% of faculty chose to conduct learning completely online, 36% at a hybrid level and 38% opted for full face-to-face learning. 

Now, initially at least, everyone will be forced to teach online.

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Dr. Kelly Brunarski, a finance professor, said she is not looking forward to having to teach and deliver lectures via PowerPoint slides again. 

“From a faculty perspective, teaching online is much more work than teaching on ground,” Brunarski said. 

Brunarski said it is “remarkably difficult” to teach and talk to a screen and said she is relying solely on past experience to anticipate when her students don’t understand the material. 

Like all Miami teachers, Mauk had to create several different plans for each of his classes and said the preparation has been intense.

“I have the courses set up online, but I also now have to have a secondary set of moves from September and onward,” Mauk said. “Only a third to half of students will be in the classroom at any given time, and that creates some really weird planning problems.”

Blair admitted that for one of her projects for her Environmental Communication class, she won’t be able to provide the same rich experience she otherwise would have been able to. Despite that fact, she’s pushing ahead to make the start of the semester as productive as possible. 

“We’ll try to figure it out, and it will work,” Blair said, “but it won’t be the same.”

guntercr@miamioh.edu

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