Faculty members at the University of New Hampshire are examining ways in which online learning affected student outcomes during the spring semester and are sharing concerns about the safety of returning to in-person classes this fall.
Professor of rhetoric James Farrell has been recording his lectures on video. He is hoping to be able to teach remotely this fall.
“I know I can offer my courses online and that students do very well, and I think in some ways, there’s a benefit to teaching online,” said Farrell, a member of the Department of Communications.
Farrell said that he taught summer and January term courses online for UNH prior to the pandemic and that his subject matter can be delivered effectively in a remote setting. He teaches courses in rhetorical theory and criticism, argumentation and the history of American public address.
Farrell is concerned about pushback from UNH officials who are now trying to get students to enter their freshman year or return to campus this fall by promoting in-person classes.
“The University highly promoted online learning when it was a tool to help them make more money with summer and J-term instruction,” Farrell said. “No administrator said, “We have to stop doing this because students aren’t getting as good an educational experience, or the evidence shows the learning outcomes aren’t as good.’”
A petition is currently circulating among faculty members who want UNH officials to give them the right to determine for themselves how they will deliver their course materials to students this fall, keeping in mind their own health and the health of their family members.
Last week, UNH Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Wayne Jones said the university is aware of the safety concerns faculty members have for themselves and their students.
UNH and other colleges in the country are using the Americans with Disabilities Act to determine whether an employee’s health concerns rises to the level of requiring an accommodation.
“Those faculty, or staff, or students that have underlying health conditions that would put them at much greater risk, we want to work with them. The accommodation for any individual faculty member is going to be very individual,” Jones said.
He said that last fall, there were 100 different online courses offered online at UNH and more will be added through blended learning this fall, but some courses need to be taught in-person if possible.
Jones said science labs, music and studio arts are examples of where face-to-face instruction is most needed for the learning experience to be effective.
Christopher Bauer is a professor of chemistry and specializes in chemistry education research and practice. He is contributing an analysis for the Journal of Chemical Education on how students reacted to going from in-person classes to remote learning this March because of COVID-19.
“Clearly, the laboratory part was the biggest difference because, at least in our case, our courses are set up for face-to-face instruction. Now, all of a sudden, we had to go online. Our lab instructors and staff were trying to find ways to adapt to that by taking videos of themselves as they actually went through a laboratory procedure,” Bauer said.
Bauer said chemistry students work through problems together and that regular, in-person social interaction is beneficial. Typically, they meet outside of class in a structured setting led by a peer who has taken the course.
Bauer said he is not sure if UNH will be able to coordinate those breakout sessions this year — even in groups of smaller than 10 -– due to social-distancing requirements.