Nearly a full year into remote learning, University of California President Michael V. Drake announced in early January that the UC system plans to offer classes in person beginning this fall, but questions still linger regarding the extent to which in-person classes will revert back to their pre-pandemic structure.
Over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, many professors have utilized an asynchronous method of teaching in order to accommodate for students in different areas of the world, students who are employed and students with extenuating circumstances that keep them from logging onto class at a set time.
Although asynchronous teaching allows for greater flexibility than synchronous teaching, several professors said they are worried that the lack of a traditional classroom structure may affect student motivation. These contrasting opinions about asynchronous teaching styles have led professors to question whether or not they should continue this method of teaching when classes resume in person.
Kenneth Hiltner, a professor in the English department and the director of UCSB’s Environmental Humanities Initiative, began working on an asynchronous model of teaching long before the pandemic. Hiltner said that he was pursuing this method of education because it grants students access to class materials anywhere and changes the way students experience lectures by allowing them to watch it multiple times, at different speeds, on different devices and with closed captioning.
“You can grab your phone and your earbuds and sit under a tree somewhere and learn about the climate crisis,” Hiltner said. “I just think those sort of possibilities are so much better than a traditional lecture.”
Hiltner said that online classes may even provide a better learning experience than classes held in large lecture halls filled with hundreds of students.
“I’m not sure that the best thing is to have everyone pile into a building two or three times a week for an hour,” Hiltner said. “It seems odd to give students access to material for that short of a period of time and then require them to feverishly write down notes on it.”
Other professors, however, said they believe that the lack of structure in asynchronous courses is harmful and can diminish student motivation, which will negatively impact their education. Linguistics professor Robert Kennedy said he prefers in-person lecture instruction, but that he plans to incorporate some aspects of remote learning into his plan for in-person fall classes, such as a variation of Zoom’s chat function.
“It is really helpful to me to see how much the students in my class are engaged with the content,” Kennedy said. “The chat function enables a kind of immediate feedback about what’s working and what’s not working that you can’t get in a large lecture hall.”
While professors utilized GauchoSpace — UCSB’s online learning management platform — prior to fully remote learning, many now rely on the website much more heavily. Dorothy Mullin, a professor in the Department of Communication, said that being forced to redo her approach to teaching has changed the way she approaches coursework, in part due to GauchoSpace’s features.
“I love GauchoSpace now … allowing students to upload assignments online and using the GauchoSpace gradebook is so efficient, and I think the organization of each week’s material online will help keep students on track in the face-to-face environment as well,” Mullin said.
Claudia Tyler, a professor in the Department of Environmental Studies, said remote learning led her to re-evaluate her teaching methods from a new perspective, both with managing GauchoSpace and her general outlook academic instruction.
“Now with everything I do teaching-wise, I’m asking myself, ‘What’s the point of this?’ and have become much more critical of myself,” she said.
Ljiljana Coklin and Christopher Dean, both faculty members in the writing program at UCSB, are interested in incorporating online office hours and informal writing assignments into their in-person class structure.
Worried about the disembodied experience brought by online learning, writing department instructors strived to create a more personal connection with their students by assigning free-writing pieces, such as journals or blogs.
“These informal assignments create an emphasis on students’ responses to what’s going on in their lives and how they are experiencing it, so that they can process that information as well as look at it from an academic perspective,” Coklin said.
Digitizing class materials may have been new territory to faculty members at UCSB, but Dean has been teaching digitally since 1993 and helped to plan the first hybrid class at UCSB before the pandemic occurred.
“Once I taught hybrid courses, I never went back to the same way that I taught before,” Dean said.
Now that all teaching faculty at UCSB have drastically changed their class structure in response to the pandemic, Dean believes most won’t revert back to their pre-pandemic structures.
“We can do better than normal,” Dean said. “Normal wasn’t really great before, so why would we want normal now?”