Teaching faculty receive online teaching guidance, some scramble to adapt to remote finals

A student watches an online microscope tutorial as part of the curriculum for an Oregon State University class.

Max Hatala, News Contributor

Following an announcement that winter term finals will be conducted remotely, and the beginning of spring term will shift to online curriculum, some Oregon State University teaching faculty have received instruction from the university, while others are scrambling to prepare.

While classes will continue as scheduled for the remainder of this week, professors have been rushing to modify their protocols to accommodate the move to remote finals, as more severe precautionary measures are going into effect on Saturday, March 14. As of right now, it is ultimately the instructors’ decision to proceed with in-person classes and finals, depending on course requirements. 

These precautionary steps are being taken to assist the global effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus.

Courses will operate at their regularly scheduled time during spring term, though they will be delivered remotely. These measures will be re-evaluated every two weeks, according to an all-student email. 

Carter Webber, graduate teaching assistant in the Physics Department, and a second-year masters student in physics said, “For instructions, I have not been given much more information than the students I teach because I know instructors, especially of large classes like introductory physics, are scrambling to figure out how to wrap up the term,” Webber said. “I feel like most of campus thought, if anything, this shift would happen at the start of spring term instead of the week before finals.” 

Starting March 30, all classes that remain in-person during spring term will be observing the practices of social distancing. This includes keeping a six-foot distance from others at all times–locations that allow for social distancing on campus vary, and can be found at the Office of the Registrar.

According to Webber, he does not have any explicit training regarding online teaching, but in the past, the physics department have utilized tools like Zoom for Ecampus students wanting to take advantage of the Wormhole, the physics help room. 

“I can’t speak to any preparation faculty has had,” Webber said. “Yesterday, the department held a meeting with as many TAs and instructors as possible to begin laying groundwork for a possible transition, but this meeting was held an hour or two before the official announcement went out.”

Webber said he has no idea how anything is going to shake out. Webber said he does not have any personal thoughts on COVID-19 at the moment, and that he does not think anyone knows enough, at this point, to be able to tell if this is a necessary precautionary step. 

During the March 12 COVID-19 informational session, Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Alix Gitelman said an information desk would be provided for any faculty questions. Further assistance can be found on the ‘Keep Teaching’ page, which aims to help faculty adapt to teaching remote classes. 

“For remote delivery of spring term classes we have existing tools, Canvas and Zoom that can allow for effective remote delivery of coursework in most cases,” Gitelman said during the information session.

Faculty will be required to use Canvas for spring term classes, using it to assign course materials and provide grading for students.

“I want to be clear that we’re not asking faculty to develop fully online courses, we’re asking them to deliver courses remotely, and we’re providing them with guidelines and tools and resources and support for them to do that,” Gitelman said during the information session.

According to Devon Graham, a graduate student and instructor in women, gender and sexuality studies, she received three emails within 18 hours of the OSU All-Students email that announced OSU’s temporary transition to online curriculum. These emails provided guidance on remote teaching, Graham said. 

“Last evening around 7:30 p.m. I received an email with ‘guidance on remote teaching’ from Ed Feser with links to tutorials for Canvas and Zoom,” Graham said.  “I also received an email from my department yesterday evening laying out our departmental guidelines for online teaching. Additionally, Philip Mote sent an email this morning to graduate students, advisors and others in graduate education about the changes being implemented.”

Graham will be teaching in the spring term, and she said the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department is now in the process of learning how to transfer to online teaching, adding that spring break could potentially be a useful time for that. 

“As for my final exams, they are unaffected because we were already using Canvas to submit papers/projects. I am more concerned about starting class next term with no face-to-face contact, particularly because large class discussions are an integral part of our teaching.”

Multiple professors declined to comment and several more have not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

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