Online Teaching Poses Problems, Opens Opportunities, According to One CSUDH Prof who Knows What He’s Talking Aboutcsudhbulletin March 25, 2020 0 COMMENTS
photo by Glenn Marshall
By Robert Rios, Co-News Editor
There are many teachers the Bulletin could have asked to help give us some context and insight into how online teaching differs from in-person instruction, and how the CSUDH faculty is handling this abrupt transition.
But we had to choose Dr. Mark Carrier, a professor in the department of psychology . We had to for one reason you may deduce from a feature story on him we published last year. Plus, he’s one of this campus’ most decorated teachers, has been here for 22 years, and is equally adept in a physical classroom as a digital one.
Bulletin: Have you ever dealt with, or heard of, a university transitioning to online halfway through a semester?
Carrier: No, I’ve never seen or experienced a university having to move online without warning. I mean I”ve been teaching for 20 years, maybe there’s some professors that have been teaching longer who’ve seen something like this.
“But I can tell you most professors or even our administrators [do not] have any experience with this because if you look at the chatter online it’s everyone, it’s not just the teachers, but it’s the administrators that don’t know what to do. And then there’s what we call regional accreditors, organizations that credit every college and university in the US. Even the regional accreditors who have been doing this for decades in education, they are scrambling on how to handle universities switching to online so quickly.
“So I guess what I’m trying to say is the problems are running all the way from the classrooms, all the way up to the top, in terms of just the whole network of higher education in the US. Everyone was really unprepared for this.”
What is your take on the general consensus of CSUDH faculty members and the decision to move to online the rest of the semester?
“Oh my gosh, there’s no consensus. I think everyone is all over the place. What I saw was some instructors were basically caught blindsided. They have never imagined they would have to teach online.
“Then you have the whole other end of the spectrum of professors who were already teaching online and were unhappy that the president delayed or suspended instruction for 10 days. So they couldn’t actually continue teaching. There is no consensus at all.”
Do you think it’s fair to have professors who work at multiple campuses with different platforms having to switch to online so quickly?
“ I don’t know if it’s a question of fairness. It definitely would be painful to be one of those professors in that situation. Given the circumstances, it’s important to our students to put the effort in to make it happen, even if it’s hard to do it.
“The most important thing I think for the professors is to make sure the students finish the semester and get through all the material that was originally planned. We have to maintain the integrity of our education.”
What is the general mood like? Do they feel intimidated or are they looking forward to the challenge?
“I think there’s both. For some professors it’s going to be pretty smooth sailing, and they’re actually going to welcome working at home for the rest of the semester. Some of the students I think will be the same way, they’ll be fine and pleased to be home and take their classes.
“But I do think there are professors who do feel rushed and just intimidated. They feel they are paid to teach a face to face class and that’s what their skills are. And then they feel like now suddenly the job is changing on them. They’re unhappy because they don’t feel like they’re going to be ready to be able to pull it off. So I think there’s a mix of those two.”
Do you think there are some professors/faculty who are more prepared than others to handle this?
“Yeah there’s people caught by surprise without the skills and it’s happening on our campus. Professors are not hiding it, the ones who are unprepared are asking for help and actually the university is trying to give them that help. People that run the academic technology, like the people that run Blackboard for our campus, they’ve been providing all sorts of resources for professors to rapidly move over to online instruction.
“We have a faculty development center on campus too which is run by our provost’s office. They have also been providing resources. And a lot of national organizations are providing free webinars, links to Youtube videos, handbooks, and all sorts of things to any professor in the country who needs help moving on.
“Also, each discipline seems to be really stepping up. Like I’m a psychologist and we have the American Psychological Association contacting members trying to provide resources for how to teach online, and also for other psychologists who work and actually treat people, for how they can move to online treatment of individuals. I think that whatever the discipline is, history, geology, whatever it is I’m sure that professional discipline and national organization is also helping.”
Are tenured professors in a better position to handle this than adjunct faculty?
“ There is no guarantee that a tenure or a tenured track professor would already know how to do this. There’s no requirement to get tenure [like having] to know how to teach online or do different learning. It’s usually been up to the individual instructor or professor whether he or she wants to engage in that. But honestly in my personal opinion, I think this is one of those bright spots. What this is all going to reveal is that we all should have been trained on how to do it. It should’ve been required a while ago. We wouldn’t have all the problems we are having now. Maybe we should have. Obviously it would be necessary for a time of need.”
Do you think being internet savvy is a benefit for teachers going online?
“Most definitely, it’s not even just about knowing the internet it’s more subtle than that. You have to know how to use the learning management system, which is just a fancy phrase for our Blackboard. But not all schools use Blackboard, they might use Canvas or something else. If you don’t have any experience using that, I think that puts you at a real disadvantage as an instructor right now because you’re not only having to convert your material to be presentable in an online format, but you’re having to learn how to use Blackboard. Just where to click, how to do an upload, and how to schedule an exam. There are so many little things to learn. It’s really not only being internet savvy, you need to be, on our campus, Blackboard savvy already to make this work quickly.
There many obstacles with going online, are there any opportunities on the education side?
“I think so based on the chatter among professors online, there are definitely some opportunities. One is that all the educators will have to start focusing on what really matters in teaching a course. It turns out it’s not the way you teach it, like if it’s face to face or online or a mix of those two or some other form of instruction. What really matters is the students get the outcomes they are supposed to get and so it seems like if we get through this then there might be more of a focus on just getting to the outcomes regardless how the information is being delivered.”
I understand that you are carefully following not only our campus’ transition to online teaching, but universities across the country. Have you found anything that sounds truly innovative, or things that sound interesting but you think carry a high risk of failure?
“No, what I’ve seen people talk about are a whole range of solutions but none especially novel, in terms of just moving a course to online. There’s a whole range of things you could do. An instructor could do the bare minimum which is literally just to upload your material and have the students read it then take an online test. I guess that’s like the simplest solution. And then I’ve seen people advocating for a much more enriching environment, interaction with the students in online discussions and live streaming lectures and all that but that’s not novel. That’s basically state of the art for online instruction for a few years.
“One thing I’ve seen, though, is a push to change the grading system this semester. Where instead of getting letter grades, students are given a pass/fail. I’ve seen that push from university faculty, administrators, and even from students from different places. Not necessarily from our campus, but I’ve seen it at other campuses. So maybe that’s innovative?
“And I’ve also seen suggestions to halt instruction right now and to give students partial credit for their coursework and then on some later date they make up the rest of the semester. So I don’t know what you call those. Maybe they’re new? So I guess they might be innovative, I don’t know if they [would] work.
Is there anything you would like to add?
“Yeah a couple of things. You’ve been asking me questions about the faculty side of things, which I know that’s what you’re interested in. But you all are looking into the student side of things too?”
Yes, yes we are.
“Yeah because I worry. Just like there’s faculty who have never done anything online before, there are students who have never taken online classes before. And all the research in online instruction shows that your first online class can be really hard for people. It would be nice if the university was providing support to those students. I hope they are, I don’t really know. So I worry about the students too.”
“The other thing that I wanted to add, there are a lot of resources out there for our campus for teachers trying to switch over to alternative instruction, also nationally they can just Google to find information. But I feel like one thing that is happening is that there’s a little too much information right now for professors. They might be getting a little information overload and really might not know where to start. They have so much to learn. I would hope they just pick a solution that works for them. If they don’t have a lot of skills learning using Blackboard, then just go with the easiest possible way to finish the semester. Don’t try and you know, give the best, most wonderful online class ever given. It’s really unrealistic in this situation.”
You said professors should find something that works for them?
“Yeah, given their skill level and their strengths with online instruction. And don’t overthink it. Just pick something that’s going to work and just do it.”