As summer break winds down and fall is here, Grand Valley State University is ready for students to return to campus for the start of classes Aug. 31. Like many schools across Michigan, GVSU was forced to hold many courses throughout both the second semester and the summer semester of 2020 virtually due to COVID-19 and GVSU may look to its virtual summer classes as a guide to what this semester may look like.
Summer classes this year were different from how they looked in years past and although the goal is to learn the material, holding them virtually allowed for both students and professors to learn many different things about online instruction.
Online classes are used to keep people safe and socially distanced but can produce challenges for some students, while others can excel under the virtual curriculum. Student Jacob DeWeerd enjoyed his summer class online because of the comradery he quickly established with his fellow classmates.
“We were able to respond to classmates in our group and classmates outside of our group and directly to our professor as well, so it was a pretty close-knit group for a bunch of online classmates,” DeWeerd said. “I thought it was great.”
Within a week of spring break ending, students and professors were forced to take classes through the university in a virtual capacity. While some students did not mind the online classes throughout the summer, some had trouble adapting to the new virtual landscape.
“One of my favorite parts about my major and my minor is that it’s very people-oriented, and the class discussion that gets prompted in my classes when we’re talking about specific issues, you almost completely lose that with an online class,” said student Lauren Moine. “I was a little disconnected because I knew I was going to sit there and listen to my professor and then I was going to do my homework and that was it.”
Professors had also been expected to quickly transition online following the COVID-19 outbreak and many were forced to hold summer classes online for the first time. Although students may have had a hard time adjusting to no face-to-face interactions, the same can be true for professors. One of the biggest things missing for these professors is the ability to fully interact with one another and to keep their students and themselves motivated.
“You do have to keep people engaged and to be honest, I had to keep myself engaged,” said Communications and Radio professor Len O’Kelly. “A lot of the process of going to class for me is the physical going to class and I have to remind myself that I have got to work on this class with these students today. It is important for a professor in an online setting to reach out and see how everybody is doing.”
While some professors were already acclimated to teaching online courses, some had to learn along the way. For Area and Global Studies professor Vandana Pednekar-Magal, she missed the face-to-face interaction with students but having this online summer semester helped her find an interest in what technology can advance her online teaching.
“It was kind of fun and interesting because I haven’t really looked into those,” Pednekar-Magal said. “It was kind of fun to adapt different types of technology into my teaching. After 20 years of teaching to just learn something new and teach it, it was initially overwhelming, but I think it went quite well.”