While students are adjusting to the new online learning environment, IU professors are changing their course expectations, as many have concerns about the health and safety of students during the COVID-19 pandemic and are uncertain whether students will have reliable access to the internet.
It's often the students who are most vulnerable who are most reluctant to ask for help, associate professor of sociology Jessica Calarco said. Some professors are extending deadlines, offering alternative final projects and coming up with different ways to deliver course materials, beyond live streaming lectures on Zoom.
She said it's not fair for professors to require students to attend live lectures because of the inequalities that surround technology.
Students in Calarco’s section of Introduction to Sociology can choose among options of attending live-streamed class meetings on Microsoft Teams, watching recordings of the meetings or reading transcripts of the lectures. No student in the course will receive a final grade lower than the grade they had when courses went online, Calarco said. The online work they complete can only raise their grade.
“I don’t want to risk penalizing students for the challenges they’re facing,” Calarco said.
Before classes moved online, Calarco conducted a survey in her Introduction to Sociology section of more than 200 students. About 10% of the students said they had concerns about not having access to the internet once classes moved online. Calarco said the percentage could be higher because not everybody took the survey.
“I’m providing as many accommodations as possible to give students the opportunity to learn,” Calarco said. “I can’t assume that students who are struggling with technology or health problems or challenges in their living situations will feel comfortable coming forward and asking for help.”
Associate professor of political science Judith Failer teaches two undergraduate courses this semester, one on constitutional rights and liberties and another on ethics and public policy. She said it has been difficult and a bit demoralizing to prepare lecture videos and Canvas discussions for students and not see their faces.
“It’s lonely,” Failer said. “I miss my students.”
Failer said she jettisoned some of the units and assignments in her classes because of lost class time due to the extended spring break and the transition to online learning. Students will have more time to prepare for online exams.
Associate professor of the Media School Anthony Fargo is teaching a Communications Law course and another course called Current Issues in Media Law. Instead of using Zoom, Fargo said he is using the discussions platform on Canvas and also posting PowerPoints on Canvas and brief lectures on Kaltura.
“I spent a lot of time agonizing over how many students are actually able to access the material that I’m putting out there,” Fargo said. “I don’t know how many students have been unable to participate because of technology issues or timing issues.”
Online exams in his classes will now be open book and some assignments have been taken out to help relieve stress for students, Fargo said.
“The first thing I’m really concerned about is the health of all our students as well as fellow faculty members and everybody in the IU community,” Fargo said.
He said he misses being able to communicate with students directly, even if it’s just having impromptu conversations with them in the hallway.
“I know a lot of students are under various degrees of stress,” Fargo said. “Just as we want to be patient with students, I hope they’ll also be patient with us as we all go through this brave new world together.”