Students, faculty adjusting to virtual environment

Dance adjunct instructor Buffy Lusk communicates is holding virtual tap classes. (TROY phot0/Clif Lusk)

Dance adjunct instructor Buffy Lusk communicates is holding virtual tap classes. (TROY phot0/Clif Lusk)

Robert Earl Stewart has taught adjunct longer than many full-time faculty members have had their stripes – almost 20 years.

With the COVID-19 outbreak, however, Stewart, a distinguished lecturer of finance and professor emeritus in the Sorrell College of Business, has made a successful transition to the online delivery of instruction for his students. He was brought up to speed by Inga Oberst, a senior instructional designer for the Sorrell College who lives in Washington state.

“With Inga’s help, we’ve gotten this course online,” he said. With the transition to an online format, Stewart’s students can keep right on learning and making progress toward the completion of their degrees, even in the midst of a challenging time.

Stewart is just one of many TROY educators who has risen to the task of putting their classes into a virtual space, and who have proven that TROY is, in fact, Alabama’s leader in online learning. It was one of the only schools in the country to announce it would shift to all-virtual delivery of courses without a delay. For TROY students, that meant returning from spring break to virtual classes – and staying at home rather than returning to the campus.

“I have actually enjoyed doing work virtually because I do not have to wake up for class, get dressed, and attend class, instead I am able to complete my work at my own pace before the deadline,” said freshman Kearra Ashford, who’s working on her classes from her home in Anniston. “The amount of class work is the same as it was in class, nothing out of the ordinary. I have one class where we have conference time during our designated class time and it feels just like being in class.”

That in-class feel is important to some professors.

“All of my students in these two classes are very open minded, patient, and ready to embrace this new way of class content delivery,” said Dr. Sergey Belyi, a mathematics professor teaching the upper-level  Advanced Math and Vector Calculus classes. “Not that I had attendance problems when my classes were face-to-face, but in new format I have had 100 percent participation.”

“I found my students to be very understanding to all the initial hiccups that all math (and I am sure other majors) instructors experienced after changing to a new delivery model,” he said.

Belyi tried three different platforms before settling on Microsoft Teams, that enables him to speak, show slides, include video and write on a whiteboard, if necessary. He teaches his classes live during the scheduled times, and records the session for posting on Canvas.

“I am constantly getting feedback from my students that helps me tweak my courses to a desired quality,” he said.

Mattie Alexander, a freshman from Tallahassee, Fla., said she recognized that some of her professors had to figure out the best way to present their courses in a virtual environment, and that each class has moved at its own pace. She said even the students recognized the need for the transition.

“While some students don’t enjoy the transfer to virtual learning, the situation is unpreventable and there isn’t any other option. Troy has done well to provide resources, and be flexible to the easily arising challenges of technology,” she said. “It can be easy to fall behind with the self-reliability in staying focused on classes, but if we remain patient with our educators, and diligent with holding ourselves accountable to do our work, then we can manage through this change successfully.”

Even though she isn’t comfortable with an online learning environment, Alexander said there were some tips that have helped her thrive.

“While learning online has been something I am unfamiliar with, I have been able to manage the situation well. I write everything down in my planner, so I can visually see what assignments I have, and if I have a virtual meeting for classes or not. This helps me stay focused and organized so that I may be successful,” she said.

“Even though I prefer an in-person, visual learning style, I have worked hard to adapt to this change and stay on top of my work,” she said.

Kearra Ashford, a freshman from Anniston, is adjusting to a virtual learning environment at TROY. (submitted)
Kearra Ashford, a freshman from Anniston, is adjusting to a virtual learning environment at TROY. (submitted)

Students have also experienced a shift outside the classroom as well. Troy Campus students in the John W. Schmidt Student Success Center, which houses such programs as tutoring, academic advising for first-year students, the Writing Center and Career Services, have seen those services shift to online.

Ashford believes the services may even be improved over in-person delivery.

“I believe the academic advising should continue allowing students have meetings online after this is over,” she said. 

It’s a sentiment Academic Advisor Jonathan Broyles said was echoed in the feedback from hundreds of students.

 “The Academic Advising Team in the JWS Center continues to provide the same level of support virtually as they do face-to-face. Before beginning to work remotely, we already had a few hundred advising sessions in preparation for summer and fall registration,” he said.

Since Monday at 8 a.m., the team has received more than 150 requests for virtual academic advising sessions. In that same period, the office has performed more than 120 virtual academic advising sessions. 

Across all of its support offices, the Schmidt Center documents some 50,000 student visits annually.

“The number of requests and completed sessions continues to rise. The students we have served have indicated that the ‘process was seamless,’ that they were ‘impressed that (they are) able to have (their) questions answered and prepare for the fall classes even when at home,’ and that ‘the meeting was just as informative as the one we had last semester’,” he said.

The Learning Center has actually been able to expand its services with the shift to online, and are using social media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram to boost engagement with their student clients.

“We are working really hard to build awareness and be there for our students to help them keep learning and finish strong,” said Trish Harris, the Learning Center coordinator.

“Without building constraints, and with new tutor schedules now that their classes are online, we have expanded our hours and added Sunday tutoring hours, since many homework and writing assignments are due on Sunday,” she said.

All Troy Campus undergraduates, which the Schmidt Center supports, are enrolled in Learning Center Scheduling on Canvas (course 38081) that has information about the Learning Center schedule and offerings, with links to resources and handouts, and links to schedule tutoring appointments. Online writing workshops and study groups for math, chemistry, physics and advanced grammar are also available.

“We are trying to meet students where they are,” Harris said.#