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Voices on the Quad: Professors Share Their Thoughts Upon Reaching the End of the Semester

Teaching amid the pandemic has definitely been challenging. Manhattan College professors have shared their experience this semester, while also reflecting on how to improve teaching in future semesters. 

Interviews compiled by Victor Franco.

Matthew Jura, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Mathematics

How has your experience been teaching in a hybrid format? 

Teaching in a hyflex format has taken a tremendous amount of work. There are a thousand tiny things that need to be done; they don’t seem like much individually, but when you look at them all at once, it really adds up to a lot. 

Have you felt the same energy from students as compared to before COVID-19?

I must compliment the students for their energy and commitment this semester. I believe that learning during the pandemic has been, overall, more stressful for all students, but that they have collectively risen to the occasion. My overall impression is that the students who are living on campus have had fewer outside distractions and have been better able to focus on their schoolwork as compared to students who are learning remotely. Additionally, the positivity rates for the on-campus testing have been much lower than the NYC area overall.  I would encourage any students who were remote in the fall, and who have the means and ability, to consider moving back on campus for the spring.

What is the biggest obstacle you faced when adjusting to remote teaching?

I wouldn’t say there was a biggest obstacle, but rather a thousand smaller obstacles that, taken together, create a much larger one. For instance, ensuring the integrity of online exams (both in remote and hyflex settings) was a big challenge. The faculty in my department have spent a lot of time working on this. This semester, I used Moodle quizzes with the Respondus lockdown browser and monitor. There was a large learning curve for this but it seemed to work well overall. Additionally, I usually have students do a good amount of group work, but this becomes very challenging in a remote environment or in a physically-distanced classroom. Moreso, it is very challenging getting students to participate in a remote environment. 

What are the advantages of hybrid teaching? 

There is the obvious advantage that we are able to accommodate both in-person students and remote students at the same time. The ability to record the classes so that students can watch them later has also proved to be very helpful.

What has been your best learning experience from teaching hybrid classes?

I have learned more about incorporating technology into the classroom, which I think has been helpful and will continue to be helpful in the future.

Laura Redruello, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Modern Languages & Literatures

How has your experience been teaching in a remote format? 

This semester I have been teaching all my three classes remotely. The experience has been good, because last semester I got the necessary practice and experience, and had time to adjust the contents. The amount of work is always much more because new material must be prepared, and the time used to correct the assignments and exams is much more. Everything must be done through the computer, which takes much more time.

Have you felt the same energy from students as compared to before COVID-19

This year the energy is different. Last semester teaching remotely was something we didn’t expect. The misfortune of the pandemic surprised us all, and we all came together in a catastrophic situation, creating a greater sense of unity and community. Besides, we had already had half of the semester in person, so we had already created more personal links, we all knew each other. This semester the students have arrived much more tired of this situation. Also, for many of them, this is their first semester on campus and they feel strange. They know their classmates only through a little window. The pandemic has been going on for almost eight months and they are more tired. I see them sadder. They are tired of being isolated, of not being able to see their friends, of not being able to relate freely. I can feel this is the classroom. They come to class with much less strength, more discouragement. In addition, many of them are worried about the economic situation that is affecting their families and are much more dispersed and worried.

What is the biggest obstacle you faced when adjusting to remote teaching?

One of the biggest obstacles is getting all the students to be present with their cameras on. Many of them have problems with connections or simply do not have computers with cameras. Others simply take advantage of the circumstances of the remote classroom to escape the teacher’s control. Also, I believe that there is still no effective and safe way to give the exams online, there is always a chance that the students are consulting or using their notes in one way or another.  

What are the advantages of hybrid teaching? 

I have found, without expecting it, many advantages. I teach Spanish language, literature and culture. When you teach a foreign language, one of the challenges for the students is to understand that foreign language. Imagine a teacher speaking to you in another language with a mask! Very difficult to understand and frustrating for students. The possibility of remote teaching has avoided this problem. I use a lot of sound and visual documents and think the students are more concentrated and understand them better in the remote classes. They are not so dispersed, they are much closer to the screen and therefore understand the texts and documents they hear and read. By teaching remotely, we connect our spaces, my house with your house, or your living room, or the students’ bedroom. Sharing our private spaces gives a sense of community. Technology has allowed us to share everything. Our computer screens, but also our personal spaces.

What has been your best learning experience from teaching hybrid classes?

My best experience was in my Latin American culture class when we discussed a Cuban film entitled “Fresa y Chocolate,” one of the most famous and controversial Cuban films that had been nominated for the Oscars. Thanks to technology, we were able to have the Cuban protagonist of the film, Vladimir Cruz, with us for the entire class by zoom. He didn’t pose any problem to stay with us. He didn’t have to take a plane, he didn’t have to move or get a visa,  just connect to his computer and enter our homes and classrooms. The students were happy that the protagonist of the movie they had just watched was one more in the class, one more little window of zoom. We were all on the same level. Everyone interacted with him, we discussed the film, he told us a lot of anecdotes. He helped us to better understand a country as complicated as Cuba. The students are less intimidated when they are talking from their homes or rooms, and we had an unforgettable class and discussion. I learned that remote learning is helping us to break down our land borders. This in a Latin American culture class is an incredible experience.

Lauren Trabold, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Management and Marketing 

How has your experience been teaching in a hybrid format?

I have had to change my usual classroom approach quite a bit. I teach marketing classes and my approach is very heavy on multimedia examples to make the class exciting, and as I transitioned to a remote classroom I’ve had to account for sharing screens, wi-fi connections and the devices students are using. I am learning what works and what doesn’t as I go along and continuing to adapt but, overall, I think it has gone pretty well, and this is largely thanks to the students and the engagement and ability to adapt that they have shown over these past few months.

Have you felt the same energy from students as compared to before COVID-19?

I have been so impressed with my students this semester. I have really felt a high level of engagement, despite the challenges of the remote environment and the restrictions that the pandemic has created around the usual on-campus experience. When the semester began, my biggest concern was being able to create a sense of community in a remote classroom and making the class as interactive as it is in-person, but the students have been really present, willing to speak up, and helped so much to build that community in a remote classroom. 

What are the advantages of hybrid teaching? 

The added flexibility for students to be able to log on to class from anywhere has been an advantage. I’ve had great attendance this semester, especially for early morning classes. 

What has been your best learning experience from teaching hybrid classes?

I think the best learning experience of this semester is that we are all facing these challenges together. It has been helpful for me to take a holistic approach and remember that the uncertainties, the nuances of the remote environment, and all of the challenges that the pandemic has created are impacting everyone and they don’t stop just because we are in class or because an assignment is due. Flexibility and empathy can go a long way in helping us all navigate these difficulties and come through them successfully.

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