The COVID-19 virus shut down my world on March 13, 2020.
I remember that day so clearly. I had just returned from a high school band trip, and when I got home, I sat down with my parents where we talked for an hour about the uncertainties that lay ahead. My spring break had already been extended for another week and there was talk of a national shutdown. I found out the following week that the virus had gotten so out of hand that they had to cancel school for the remainder of the year. Just like that, my senior year had come to an end on a gloomy Tuesday in March with me sitting in my car, terrified of what was going to happen to life as I knew it.
I am not the only one with a story like this. Everyone was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. I am writing this on Nov. 5, 2021, and 47,240,984 people have contracted the virus. Thankfully, 37,233,198 of those affected have recovered, but an astounding 773,482 people have died in the United States. COVID-19 has changed the world. I do not believe that we will ever be able to return to the state of normalcy that we had before the pandemic, but I do have hope for a new normal.
This week I wanted to interview two of my current professors, Dr. Kelly Pigott, professor of church history, and Dr. Tom Copeland, professor of psychology and counseling, about their experience with teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite our school years being cut short, our lives being put on hold and our world being forever changed, I believe that the pandemic impacted education in both positive and negative ways.
The decision to go online brought many reactions from instructors for various reasons. One of the greatest adjustments to online teaching was learning how to use online instruction platforms.
“I really hate to teach online,” Dr. Copeland said. “It’s not why I became a teacher. My strengths (like most of my colleagues) are the interpersonal parts of teaching, and as much as I respect and support our online folks, I still don’t think there’s any way to duplicate what happens in a live classroom in an online format.”
This somewhat sudden decision to make the transition online caught everyone in a different spot, and Dr. Pigott found himself farther away from home than normal.
“I was in London with a group of students in the spring of 2020, so they were naturally quite upset that we had to come home and finish the semester online,” Dr. Pigott said. “Study abroad courses provide the exact opposite pedagogy of online courses. But again, [moving online] was the right call, and we simply had to make the best of it.”
Teaching and creating a learning environment online was a trial-and-error process for most professors. In a way, online learning was a learning process for all. Though it might have been appealing at first, the move to online caused many to realize the value of typical, in-person classes. COVID did allow for the normalization of online learning practices that are a good fit for all situations.
“I think the vast majority of students recognize that face-to-face is best,” Dr. Pigott said. “That said, students find themselves in situations where attending a class just isn’t feasible. In these cases, online courses provide a viable alternative, which is a big plus. Another big positive is that some students work best at hours when courses aren’t offered. This allows them to listen to a lecture or work on an assignment when they are at their peak.”
The new and improved online learning tools that came from the campus COVID experience increase the chance of better online learning outcomes for both professors and students in the future.
Q: What was your initial reaction when you were told that classes had to go online for the remainder of the 2020 school year?
Dr. Pigott: Honestly, I was relieved. I felt it was the right call given the situation.
Dr. Copeland: Not happy. I dislike using the computer in general (it’s extremely useful, but it’s not any fun for me at all) , and I really hate to teach online. It’s not why I became a teacher. My strengths (like most of my colleagues) are the interpersonal parts of teaching, and as much as I respect and support our online folks, I still don’t think there’s any way to duplicate what happens in a live classroom in an online format.
Q: How comfortable were you with using online teaching resources such as Zoom, Google hangouts, Canvas, etc.?
Dr. Pigott: I’ve been teaching online courses since HSU first started offering them, so I was already very familiar with these tools.
Dr. Copeland: Not really at all. I hate learning new technology (I’m old). And it’s constantly changing. It was all I could do to make Canvas work and record all my lectures, etc.
Q: How did your students react to the transition to online learning?
Dr. Pigott: I was in London with a group of students in the Spring of 2020, so they were naturally quite upset that we had to come home and finish the semester online. Study abroad courses provide the exact opposite pedagogy of online courses. But again, it was the right call, and we simply had to make the best of it.
Dr. Copeland: I think most hated it. I don’t think I heard one positive comment about it. At first I thought it seemed fun… “Yea! We get to stay home and go to class in our pajamas.” But the end result was that nobody was very happy with it. They don’t pay our huge tuition to have online classes.
Q: Did you find it challenging to find the motivation to continue teaching during the COVID-19 quarantine?
Dr. Pigott: Not really. I felt fortunate that I had the opportunity to keep working during the quarantine and not have to worry about paying bills like so many others. I also had the opportunity to minister to students who were struggling, which was very rewarding.
Dr. Copeland: Not really. It’s my job and I didn’t have trouble being motivated, it just was different, difficult, and not much fun.
Q: Were there any new teaching approaches that you tried during online teaching?
Dr. Pigott: Yes. Some of them flopped, but some of them were very successful, and I was able to incorporate them in my ongoing online course offerings.
Dr. Copeland: Just recording videos. That was a useful skill to learn. But just not the product I think we’re committed to providing for our students.
Q: Have you continued to implement online teaching resources into your classrooms now that we are back in person?
Dr. Pigott: I’ve been moving toward more of a hybrid approach for a while. What the quarantine did was accelerate that model for me.
Dr. Copeland: NO.
Q: What benefits did you see or positive feedback did you receive from your students about their experience with online learning?
Dr. Pigott: I think the vast majority of students recognize that face-to-face is best. That said, students find themselves in situations where attending a class just isn’t feasible. In these cases, online courses provide a viable alternative, which is a big plus. Another big positive is that some students work best at hours when courses aren’t offered. This allows them to listen to a lecture or work on an assignment when they are at their peak.
Dr. Copeland: Flexibility was a good thing, but for students AND faculty, flexibility often turns into lack of commitment or self-discipline. Not for all, but for many.
Q: What are your opinions about online learning?
Dr. Pigott: In my discipline, Bible, theology and ethics are best learned in community. It’s very difficult to create community online, especially when the course is offered asynchronously. So on one level I’m not a big fan of it. If I could I would ban it completely. However, I recognize that the world, and in particular education, is changing. We have to figure out how to make it work, which is why I decided to engage online learning from the beginning. My glimmer of hope is that Gen Z is very comfortable with experiencing community and learning online. As the technology progresses, I hope that the wide gap I see in effectiveness between face-to-face courses and online courses will diminish.
Dr. Copeland: I dislike it immensely. And I mean no disrespect to my colleagues who teach online and love it, or are very good at it. I know it’s probably the wave of the future, and I know we will likely be forced into more of it, but I think it is a poor substitute for face to face classroom interaction – much in the same way that texting or social media are poor substitutes for real face-to-face conversations. I didn’t become a teacher to make videos or chat virtually online. I know that attitude will probably make folks like me obsolete at some point, and again, I don’t intend it to be a negative attitude toward my colleagues who love to teach online. Some are very good at it and love it. But I think my strengths as a teacher are lost in technology. Not everyone will agree, and I respect that, but that’s my experience, and my opinion. And again, I don’t think that’s what our students are paying private university tuition for. I think they are attracted to schools like HSU because of our personal relationships and contact and faculty/student interactions. Some of my colleagues are probably very good at doing all of that online, but many of us are not and I think our students much prefer to be in the classroom with us.
Q: Do you think COVID-19 made learning more or less accessible?
Dr. Pigott: I think the quarantine hastened what was already happening in education, which is to find more ways of providing online opportunities for students.
Dr. Copeland: For some folks, but many of my students took it as a chance to not be as diligent, engaged, or committed to the learning process. And that makes it much harder as a teacher. I don’t think accessibility is a continuing problem for most of our students. Now that COVID is over (to a degree), I think they much prefer in-person learning.