Courtesy of Cornell University

Robert Vanderlan, senior associate director of the Center for Teaching Innovation, reviews a presentation about distance learning due to COVID-19.

April 13, 2020

As Online Classes Settle In, Students Reflect on How Professors are Coping with Distanced Learning

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From holding office hours on Club Penguin to creating their own podcasts, professors everywhere are trying to adapt to online learning after they were thrown into “Zoom University.”

After completing their first week of online classes, Cornell students reflected on their professors’ responses to the chaotic transition, expressing an appreciation for their professors’ efforts within the realm of things they could control.

The unprecedented scope of the situation has led many professors to soften deadlines, easen the workload and make accommodations for students whose situations hinder them from fully participating in coursework.

In Charlie Kim’s ’23 College Dormitory Microbiology class, the professor added an entirely new discussion section for those students who could no longer attend the previous times.

“On the whole, professors have been really accommodating and understanding of the fact that we’re at home, we’re not in the same work environment and most of us aren’t in the same headspace as we were on campus,” said Alexa Saylan ’22.

The home environment that is now the backdrop of many students’ learning can lead to some unusual situations, with students eating toast on Zoom calls or observing their classmates’ room decor. In Saylan’s Spanish lecture, the professor paused midway to pick up an important phone call, and upon hanging up, declared that she had tested negative for COVID-19.

Although professors are trying their best to adjust, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few unforseen glitches.

In Economics 1120: Introductory Macroeconomics, the professor was delivering a live lecture when he stopped halfway to answer questions, not realizing his computer audio was off, preventing him from hearing students. To alert him of the issue, students wrote “Turn on your volume, professor” in sharpie on pieces of paper, and held these messages up to their screens.

Throughout Kareena Dash’s ’23 chemistry lecture, the professor’s screen kept freezing, and eventually cut out completely, leaving students bemused and wondering what to do next. Someone started playing the Jeopardy theme in the background, until the professor finally reconnected.

Despite occasional difficulties in navigating the online environment, professors and students are marching on with instruction in the hopes that next semester will bring a beautiful Ithacan autumn and Zoom-less instruction.

“[Rating how professors are handling the transition] from one to 10, I’d say 10 — I mean, Zoom University itself isn’t great, but the problems are exclusive to the fact that it’s online, not due to the professors themselves,” said Kim.