Due to the pandemic, John Carroll students are using Zoom for all of their classes. Professors and students alike are now taking part in a new way of experiencing academia.
Teaching over Zoom has resulted in unforeseen technological problems and student engagement issues. Students have the ability to turn their cameras off, causing professors to wonder what exactly they are doing. Professors have expressed their feelings towards Zoom: the good and the bad.
The faculty have put in more than 5,000 hours of online design classes and 47,000 hours of training workshops for Zoom, according to Brent Brossmann, a faculty leader as head of the Faculty Council and a professor in the Communication Department.
When COVID-19 caused John Carroll University to close in the spring, everyone was in a rush to resume the semester. “As faculty, we were caught completely off guard with that. We took three days to get ready, and the next Monday we started classes on Zoom,” Brossmann said. “I think Zoom does a pretty good job, all things considered.” Zoom is an easy solution to continue classes, but this does not mean it has been an easy transition for the professors.
Spanish professor Katherine Gatto explained how much harder it is to teach a foreign language over Zoom. “In person there is more of a give and take [dialogue]. With Zoom, it’s more of a monologue. Students are shy and hesitant to speak, especially in a foreign language.”
A lot of students tend to leave their cameras off, whether it’s for personal reasons, a better WiFi connection or because they might not be listening. The latter provides many problems in a foreign language class.
“Language learning is like constructing a building,” Gatto said. “Each new floor is constructed upon the floors below. Therefore, if they miss something in a class, they can’t move ahead. The building will crumble. It’s really important that they master the concepts as we move along.”
One of the most important components of class to professors and students alike is engagement. Not only do the students have to be engaged with what the professors are teaching, the professors have to be engaged with their students.
Rev. Maurice Emelu, a digital media professor, said, “Our unique value of exceptional teacher dedication to students and student-to-student relationships … seems to have [taken] a little hit at this moment. These are some of the things that may not be directly about the Zoom method of delivery but impact the value one delivers as a teacher.”
When students’ cameras are off, professors cannot get a read on them. “I like it when students can put their cameras on, so the teacher can sense from their nonverbals their level of engagement, as much as this is possible within Zoom,” Emelu added.
Many professors are experimenting with new ways to engage with students over Zoom. Brossmann assigns a 20-questions activity where the students must prepare their answers before class and are randomly called on to answer. Many professors have set up breakout room sessions where students can engage with each other while learning the material.
Since the reasons why some students have their cameras turned off are only speculation, these professors have not instituted a “cameras on” requirement for their classes. Professors were told to respect students’ wishes for privacy reasons.
“There are many activities, exercises, quizzes, essays and applied projects depending on each course. If one [a student] does not show up and does not follow through, they dim their chances to do well,” Emelu explained.
Zoom classes can be challenging for both students and professors as technology is an unpredictable tool. WiFi cuts out, microphones stop working and computers crash. Providing a different kind of insight, Emelu said, “Given my background from the Global South, it adds to my appreciation or otherwise of the Zoom experience. I’m glad that at least we can Zoom and carry on our studies, no matter the Zoom limitations.”
Even though technology can be a hassle, John Carroll University is still providing a valuable Jesuit education for its students. The university is No. 3 in the region for Best Undergraduate Teaching, according to the 2020 U.S. News & World Report Best College Rankings, and was No. 1 last year.