While students choose courses and sign leases for the fall semester, some professors have already started preparing for the possibility of another virtual semester.
Prof. Steven Alvarado, sociology, is currently in the process of completely reworking the syllabi of his classes, should Zoom replace in-person lectures. A major change in his syllabus was making all exams open-note — a reflection that the online transition for the spring semester has been riddled with challenges concerning equity and academic integrity.
Apart from trying to make exams in his class as equitable as possible, Alvarado has found it difficult to maintain the inherently collaborative nature of his course Sociology 1104: Race and Ethnicity in the United States: Social Constructs, Real World Consequences, which relies on students relating the material to their own lives and engaging in discussions and debates with one another.
“I’m trying to fit a square peg into a round hole because my class is not an online class,” Alvarado said, “I’m afraid I’m not going to be very successful with that [next semester].”
This is especially an issue for international students, who may be able to attend online lectures due to time zone differences and cannot interact with peers in small-group breakout rooms.
Prof. Stephen Lee, chemistry and chemical biology, has come up with a possible solution to balance equal levels of interaction and student engagement.
Lee is currently preparing two different versions of the course Chemistry 2070: General Chemistry I for the fall — one completely in person and the other completely online — with the help of his teaching assistants.
His class usually consists of two lectures and one recitation per week led by teaching assistants. However, in the case of a completely online fall semester, Lee plans to increase the number of interactive sessions per week from one to three.
In addition to a recitation section, there will be multiple synchronous lectures for about 20 students, twice a week, to accommodate for different time zones.
During these lectures, students will watch three 10-minute long pre-recorded videos and will have the opportunity to interact with peers in breakout sessions between these segments. The breakout sessions and recitation sections will be monitored and facilitated by teaching assistants in the same time zone.
“Students in Asia can participate because we also have [teaching assistants] in Asia,” Lee said.
Lee believes that the proposed plan of going from one to three hours of interactive problem solving with teaching assistants could help compensate for the loss of in-person interaction, provided the online work is properly executed.
Although Lee was unsure if a completely virtual version of his class could be as effective in imparting course material as the in-person version, he stated that “the bar [is] high for the fall.” Lee referred to an online lab simulator Prof. Melissa Hines, chemistry and chemical biology, created for Chemistry 2080: General Chemistry II this semester as an example of the great lengths faculty are going through, so students’ virtual experiences can closely mirror a physical classroom.
“Dr. Hines’ effort on the [online lab simulator] was a real tour-de-force and created in only three weeks,” Lee said.
Currently, the proposed online version for Lee’s class has neither been approved by the department of chemistry and chemical biology nor the University, but professors are still hopeful for a successful fall semester, even if it is online.
“Whatever format we are teaching in the fall, there will be improvements over this very disruptive spring semester,” said Brian Crane, chair of the department of chemistry and chemical biology.