Illinois State University students and faculty embarked on their new online-only learning Monday, with several professors trying to stay open-minded and even optimistic about the challenge.
The “pedagogical triage” underway this month is very different from preparing a well-developed, fully online class, said Jennifer Friberg, ISU’s Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. It won’t be easy, she said, but online learning does not necessarily mean a lesser experience.
“I strongly feel as though we have the skills, support, and resources to help our students succeed,” said Friberg, whose job is to facilitate and mentor research on how students learn.
Friberg said she thinks ISU’s abrupt shift to online learning will go well.
“The move to online will help course instructors think really carefully about, ‘What is the critical content of this course? What do I need my students to leave knowing from this course?' They’ll have the opportunity to really prioritize that content and think about how it can be delivered in different ways,” said Friberg, also a professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
ISU has shared many resources with students and faculty on its coronavirus website. Still, some students remain anxious about how the rest of the semester will play out.
Over 4,400 people have signed an online petition asking ISU to provide students with an option to take a class “pass/fail” (also called pass/no pass). Pass/no pass is available for a limited number of courses already, but not for courses to fulfill a major or minor requirement. More than a dozen other universities have already decided to expand pass/fail options due to the crisis.
The goal would be to decrease stress on students by not having them worry about how a suddenly very different class might impact their GPA, said Dylan Hummel, a junior finance major at ISU who started the petition. He started his first week of online learning Monday back at home in Cabery, Ill.
“I was extremely surprised with how quickly it took off,” Hummel said.
He said he’s hopeful ISU administrators will consider the idea.
“Having some other universities that are reputable already making the move—it makes it a little easier to justify (at ISU),” Hummel said.
ISU spokesperson Eric Jome said the “move away from face-to-face instruction to online and alternative class delivery methods is a seismic shift in the way the university operates.”
“We know this shift is stressful for students and faculty members alike,” Jome said. “University administrators are aware of the petition and continue to examine the issue in light of these circumstances.”
Friberg said she thinks ISU faculty will be flexible with students, either way.
“Whichever way things proceed, moving to a pass-fail or staying with regular course grades, I think it’s going to be alright. Students will be taken care of,” Friberg said.
Student Teachers Impacted
And that’s harder for some students, especially those doing off-campus internships, clinicals, or student teaching.
ISU has around 650 student teachers assigned to schools across Illinois this spring, said Christy Borders, director of ISU’s Cecilia J. Lauby Teacher Education Center. Because those schools are all closed through at least April 7, those students are now learning right alongside their cooperating teachers how to flip K-12 education to a completely online format, Borders said.
“They are learning something they never expected to learn,” Borders said.
Many are anxious about what their abbreviated student-teaching experience will mean for their ability to get professionally licensed by the state, she said. Will they need to repeat student teaching in the fall?
Borders said ISU is awaiting guidance from the State Board of Education (ISBE) on that question. The coronavirus will not impact degree completion at least, she said.
“We’re doing everything in our power to ensure that we will not lengthen time to degree at ISU,” Borders said. “We’re trying to put those concerns at ease.”
"Due to recent school and test center closures that limit or prohibit candidates from completing their preparation program requirements, ISBE is pursuing policy changes that will enable candidates who would otherwise complete their licensure requirements this spring or summer to receive licensure prior to the 2020-2021 school year. We will provide official guidance specific to the requirement changes as soon as we are able. ISBE is committed to resolving these licensure issues so that no candidate in the final stages of their preparation is adversely affected by the closures."
Another 2,400 future educators who have not yet begun student teaching but were scheduled to visit schools for clinical observations are now doing that work online, Border said. They’re watching videos of National Board Certified teachers in action, she said.
On Monday, chemistry professor Gregory Ferrence was preparing to go “fully online” with his first-semester general chemistry course, which is taken by a lot of nursing, food and nutrition, and agriculture students. There are about 120 students enrolled.
“It’s a big lift for that course for many of those students, even under the best of circumstances,” Ferrence told WGLT.
Ferrence has taught fully online classes previously. Other classes have had significant online components, such as homework, and that makes a big difference for comfort levels, he said. For this spring's general chemistry course, he’ll stress to his students what’s changing—and what’s not.
“Even doing my lectures online will be uncomfortable for many students. But the online homework system that I’ve been using is no different than it was several weeks ago before all of this crisis really hit people,” he said.
He said he’ll “expect the unexpected.” He’s got backup plans for his backup plans. If his basement office fails, he’ll head upstairs to a secondary home office. If the internet isn’t working for live lecture, he can pre-record video and share that with his students.
Chemistry, after all, is really about problem-solving, Ferrence said.
“We’re going into a space where even the instructor doesn’t even necessarily know the answer,” he said. “It may not be chemistry, but we gotta figure out how we’re gonna do this.”
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