Ball State professors adjust to online classes

<p>Khirey Walker, kinesiology professor, asked students to create YouTube accounts and make video discussion board posts as an alternative to in-class discussions during the COVID-19 lockdown, which led Ball State classes to transition solely online March 2020. <strong>Photo Courtesy, Unsplash</strong></p>

Khirey Walker, kinesiology professor, asked students to create YouTube accounts and make video discussion board posts as an alternative to in-class discussions during the COVID-19 lockdown, which led Ball State classes to transition solely online March 2020. Photo Courtesy, Unsplash

Regular on-campus professors began operating solely online after Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns announced early March the university would forgo in-person classes for the rest of semester to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many professors handled the transition differently.

Michael Bauer is one professor who had a hard time adjusting to teaching online classes. Bauer is a debate coach who primarily teaches debate courses and public speaking classes. Bauer said in an email he understands why Ball State decided to shut down its campus.

“The health of the university has to be the priority,” Bauer said. “I can’t wait to be back with my students in the classroom, but not until we are comfortable with the situation and being safe.”

This was Bauer’s first time teaching a class online, and he said he had a tough time adjusting to the format.

“I’ve been teaching a certain way all of my 33 years of teaching,” he said. “Suddenly, I need to change the way I teach. I’m an old dog learning a new trick.” 

Bauer has optional WebEx and Zoom meetings to allow students to ask questions, clarify things or discuss concepts. Bauer posts his lectures online for his students to read, but this goes against his preferred method of teaching. 

“As a debate coach, I can’t help myself sometimes in trying to promote spontaneous discussion and evaluation of ideas,” Bauer said.

Bauer said he loves engaging with his students face-to-face. He said he loves the feedback from students in-person because it helps him know if they are understanding the lesson. Putting them online does not allow this kind of interaction and feedback, he added. 

“My stories and examples have more impact when the communication is face to face,” he said.

The transition to online classes has caused Bauer to do some reflection. He said it is making him more conscious of how students learn online, how he can be more efficient in teaching online and what he needs to do to be an effective online professor. In the end, he said, it is a time to be more adaptable and figure out how to learn through an online education, as it “is our new reality."

Khirey Walker, kinesiology professor, has also been affected by the switch to online classes. Walker said in an email that switching to online classes wasn’t too difficult for him. He attributes this to the fact that the university gave professors plenty of time to make the switch from in-person to online classes. He said seeing his students one last time in person to communicate with them was critical to making this transition because it allowed them to find common ground.

“The classroom is familiar to students within this point in their academic careers,” Walker said. “The classroom is what they know.”

He said he ultimately understood that the health and safety of the students, faculty, staff and other personnel came first, so the switch to online classes was for the best for the time being. 

Walker said he had an easy time adjusting his classes to an online format. His classes are focused on discussion and communication. Walker’s students created YouTube accounts and made video discussion board posts as an alternative to in-class discussions. In-class assignments became homework assignments, but overall, the changes to how his classes worked were minimal. 

Despite the ease of adjusting, Walker said he still misses the overall experience of in-person classes. This is Walker’s third year of teaching at Ball State, and he said he loves the daily ritual of going to work every day, seeing his students and colleagues and engaging in quality learning experiences with everyone there. 

“I think online classes are great, but being in front of the class and teaching, as well as learning from my students, is truly fulfilling to me,” he said.

Walker said he believes online classes ultimately tests the abilities of teachers. He said they spend so much time preparing for class that changing their lesson plans to a new format shows the adaptability of professors. 

“I think there is plenty to learn from a situation like this, but in my opinion, the impact of how teachers are teaching now will only make them stronger in the future,” he said.

Contact Daniel O’Connell with comments at dcoconnell@bsu.edu or on Twitter at @DanielO89155766.

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