UC Santa Barbara students have not been alone in facing academic challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic; establishing classroom communication, material accessibility and mental health resources has been a source of struggle for some professors, but the university is working to provide training and relief for those who need it.
The Instructional Support Team — which consists of the Center for Innovative Teaching, Research, and Learning (CITRAL), Instructional Development (ID) and Collaborate — has organized a number of resources faculty can refer to when facilitating their online classes.
The Instructional Support Team held workshops over Zoom in the few weeks they had before spring quarter launched online, with topics ranging from making efficient lesson plans to navigating certain technologies, according to Linda Adler-Kassner, the faculty director of CITRAL and associate dean of undergraduate education in the College of Letters & Science. The workshops were also recorded so professors could access them later on the Instructional Continuity site.
According to Adler-Kassner, UCSB’s history of teaching through natural disasters and crises turned out to be helpful in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had a pretty good infrastructure to support this partly because of the Thomas Fire,” Adler-Kassner said. “We already had the Instructional Continuity site set up, and because we know Summer Sessions A and B and all the sessions in between will be offered remotely, we’re developing more resources.”
The Instructional Support Team also holds regular online “coffee hours” over Zoom for instructors and teaching assistants to talk about their remote instruction experiences. If a staff member needs assistance outside of these meetings, the support team is readily available for consultation, Adler-Kassner said.
“As we think toward fall and wait for the campus to provide some guidance about what’s going to happen, we’ll of course be there to support that in very proactive ways,” Adler-Kassner added.
Aside from teaching support, the UCSB Academic & Staff Assistance Program (ASAP) is providing mental and emotional health support for faculty. The group, which offers short-term counseling, consultations, workshops and more, is assisting professors in identifying and managing work-related and personal concerns; these resources are available on the ASAP website.
ASAP also organized the COVID-19 Pandemic Coping Skills Resource Group, which holds group meetings for staff to connect with each other, discuss and learn coping skills and maintain their psychological well-being under stressful circumstances, as described in an email sent out to faculty by the Pati Montojo, the ASAP manager and a licensed psychologist. The group has also started a YouTube channel, uploading videos that help viewers understand anxieties related to the pandemic.
Executive Vice Chancellor David Marshall, who supervises academic planning and programming at UCSB, described the shift to remote learning as a “miraculous transformation,” praising the faculty and staff for their dedication to making the online environment possible in just a few weeks.
“If somebody had asked us a year ago and said, ‘We want you to transform your whole curriculum to remote teaching, and we’re going to give you a year to do it,’ people would’ve said, ‘Are you crazy?’” Marshall said.
According to Marshall, while instruction for Fall Quarter 2020 remains uncertain, the university hopes to welcome students back to campus for future quarters. However, campus life will likely not resume to normal by fall, and UCSB is prepared to continue remote instruction if that is the case.
“Until there’s a vaccine, we’re going to be living in somewhat altered circumstances,” Marshall explained. He described a mixed approach to instruction involving a combination between online and in-person classes to reduce density and encourage social distancing. “Whatever arrangement we can make to have it be safe and effective,” he said.
Still, many professors would rather teach face-to-face classes, but as more resources develop, their classes are slowly becoming accustomed to online formats.
“We have a lot of innovative teachers. They’ve also gotten help from their students who I think, in many cases, are more conversant, more comfortable, with technology,” Marshall said.
Adler-Kassner added that as both professors and students adapt to the situation, they’re helping each other create an efficient space for both sides of the screen.
“I think it’s helpful for students when they know we faculty are doing the best that we can and trying to sort of think about things,” Adler-Kassner said. “It’s also helpful for faculty to really hear about the student experience.”
“There are things that we are learning from this experience that can improve our teaching overall.”