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RU professors quickly adapt classes for online learning

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

by Christian Todd

News and Opinion Editor

With reporting by Damon Alexander, Lily Cochenour, Dustin Foran, Jennifer Martlock and Tamera Robinson

When the COVID-19 pandemic began afflicting Michigan, Rochester University responded to the expanding crisis by moving all seated, face-to-face classes to the online environment.

In just a few days, professors had to move all their classes online. Most professors are using a combination of Google Meet and Moodle to instruct their students. Some classes require more face-to-face interaction, such as science or nursing labs, so moving online was no simple task. 

Shield Media reached out to various RU professors for their thoughts on the transition and about teaching only online.


Kimberly Nash

Director, School of Nursing

Assistant Professor of Nursing

The hands-on profession of nursing increases the important of in-person learning, but Nash said she has always used Moodle as a supplement to her courses, so having students continue to post assignments and presentations online has not been an issue.

She is now connecting with her students through Google Meet. While it is important to be in a classroom for the lab sessions, Google Meet still allows students to present information on patients. “Faculty are holding debriefing sessions with the students using Google Meet to discuss the patients and the virtual care that the students have provided,” Nash said.

She admits that teaching only online is not ideal. “It is hard on everyone not to get to see each other in the classroom,” she said. “Using Google Meet helps the students feel connected and allows them time to interact with both the faculty and their peers. For some students, weak internet connections and finding a quiet place to attend classes via Google Meet is challenging.”

Nash also said some nursing classes just work better in a physical classroom on campus. “The ability to ask questions in real-time and for faculty to explain difficult concepts in a different way certainly favors the seated course format,” she said. 

While challenges exist, Nash is confident that students will be able to succeed. “Many of our courses have a clinical component that takes place in the on-campus lab or in the hospital setting,” she said. “There is a great deal of carry over from one educational setting to the other. This makes a fully online undergraduate nursing program nearly impossible. Despite these trying times of COVID-19, we remain required to follow the guidelines of the Michigan State Board of Nursing and our program accreditors (Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education) to assure that our students are prepared to serve the public as registered nurses.”


James Dawson

Associate Professor of Education

James Dawson is working on getting his classes to work as efficiently as possible online. “I have tried to follow a similar format to a regular in-person class as much as possible,” he said. “I use a lot of small group cooperative learning approaches, so that is a problem. It is more difficult for everyone to contribute their thoughts when they must compete with all of their classmates. Small groups ensure that everyone gets a chance to contribute, but an online class meeting takes a great deal of time and places limits on what various class members might be able to contribute. There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction.”

Some classes don't work quite as well online, he said. “The greatest casualty this semester is the science portion of the Math and Science for Elementary Teachers class,” Dawson said. “Lab activities, investigations and hands-on discovery lessons cannot be carried out because many students do not have access to the necessary materials. Movies and videos that contribute to class might not be available, especially since so many new streaming services have popped up recently and each one prohibits others from using their materials (e.g., Disney+).”

Dawson does see positives to the situation. "At least Google Meet and Moodle allow us to carry on communicating and sharing with one another. I look forward to being together again as soon as it is reasonable and safe to do so," he said.


Katie Stokes

Assistant Professor of Business

Already using Moodle for her classes, Stokes said she adjusting all of her classes to the online environment hasn't been too difficult. “I can only speak for myself, but the transition to online instruction has been pretty smooth. Like most professors I already heavily utilize Moodle in my courses, so the logistics haven't been much different," she said.

She is concerned about the adjustment for students. “I worry about students struggling to adapt to the online format, although so far I've been impressed by how well everyone is adjusting,” she said.

Online teaching works, but Stokes said she misses interacting with students. “Those small moments before or during classes where you get to know the people you're working alongside (which for us is our students) and the encouragement that comes from those relationships. I don't know if students always realize how much they mean to us, and the absence of those connections is a challenge.”


Rob Arbaugh

Dr. Catherine Parker

Theatre Professors

When the pandemic hit Michigan, the Department of Theatre decided to postpone all its remaining performances, such as April's two-week long production of "Sweeney Todd."

In a letter to ticket holders, the theatre staff wrote, "Our current plan is to postpone the production. It is our hope that in the coming weeks, the situation will improve and we will be able to open 'Sweeney Todd' on June 4 and run for two weekends. As the situation continues to change rapidly, we will keep you up to date on any changes to these plans and will inform you when tickets become available."

Theatre teachers say adapting some classes to an online learning environment has been easier than others. "History and theory lectures can now become PowerPoints or be delivered over Google Meet. Viewings of films and performances can now be done on Moodle instead of in the classroom, with discussions taking place on the online forums.” 

The faculty admit that the performance aspect of their classes has been more difficult to handle. “It is here where we have adapted our approach to focus more on the joy of performing and doing art together, and so, rather than having a live showing of a song in the same room as the rest of the class for Musical Theatre studies, we now encourage students to think about what songs they love to perform, and to record themselves singing that song, while telling us why it appeals to them.”

This has also led to some positive aspects of teaching solely online and how these performances can help students. “Although this alters the class, it also adds an element of self-reflection on personal tastes, which can be something that is often neglected in an artist. This is just one example of how we are constantly working as faculty members to evolve our teaching methods so that the educational aspect is not shortchanged while the students still feel like they can contribute to the school culture while still in the situation we currently find ourselves in," wrote the theatre faculty.


Dr. Katharyn Cochrane

Associate Professor of Math and Science

Cochrane said she has faced several challenges when it comes to changing her classes in order to fit online. “I miss the classroom feedback when I am teaching, but I have had lots of very good one-on-one video chat 'office hours,' ” she said. She admitted that setting up tests for online classes takes much longer than typing them in Word and making copies.

She said she worries about how students are handling their "new normal," but says most seem to be adapting well. “Props to all the students who are making this transition and the change in their daily lives so graciously!” she said. 

Read more of Shield's in-depth coverage about RU and the impact of COVID-19



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