Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Traditional lecture halls will remain empty for the rest of the semester as classes continue online.

March 25, 2020

‘It Was Inevitable’: How Teachers are Handling the Transition from In-Person to Online Instruction

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In just over a week, Cornell students will return to class after spending almost a month away from coursework. But while they anxiously prepare to have the second half of their spring semester held entirely online, faculty have confronted just as many challenging transitions.

When it was first announced on March 10 that all classes would go online after spring break, faculty and students were given over two weeks to prepare for the unprecedented shift.

But that two-week transition period was expedited even further after President Martha E. Pollack’s sudden decision to suspend classes on March 13th, catching professors off guard.

“My first reaction to everything associated with the crisis was shock,” said Prof. Judith Byfield, history. “Since this will be my first time teaching online, dread and excitement are combined.”

In addition to rewriting much of their previously planned syllabi, many professors have had to familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of Zoom, a video communications app that the University is using to hold online lectures.

All lectures, in-class collaborations and discussion sections will be held electronically and, according to the Cornell University Coronavirus FAQ page, should “maintain their regular class meeting time to avoid creating scheduling conflicts across courses.”

“The learning curve has been somewhat steep,” Byfield said. “I had only used Zoom as a participant in meetings. I have had to learn the features of Zoom and there are a few features on Canvas that I’ve had to learn as well.”

But the overall transition has been easier for some faculty than others. For example, Prof. Steven Alvarado, sociology, had been expecting the quicker-than-anticipated transition time prior to its official announcement.

“For weeks, I had anticipated that the University was going to go online given how COVID-19 was spreading around the globe,” Alvarado said. “I was relieved that the University finally decided to go online; it was inevitable.”

Even for the tech-savvy, however, online learning does not come without its concerns. While some instructors fear how glitches and connectivity issues might disrupt online lectures, others expressed concern over how they will accommodate a classroom now spread across the globe.

“Our only worry right now is being flexible,” said Chance Smith, a TA for SOC 2208: Social Inequality. “For places that aren’t in the U.S, it’s going to be harder to kind of make sure that they are always in the loop. But if we can account for those students, it should be a relatively easy transition.”