The realities of the coronavirus pandemic left UNLV faculty taking a busman's holiday over spring break, setting aside rest and relaxation to come up with viable plans to shift their courses from traditional classroom settings to remote instruction.
The process wasn't without its speed bumps, but professors kept students learning and progressing toward their degrees throughout the remainder of the spring and into the summer. Now, with a moment to breathe, faculty and the university are both looking at ways to refine remote teaching and acknowledging the discoveries that came of it it.
For example, one thing faculty new to remote teaching quickly learned was that simply delivering a lecture via a schedule WebEx or webinar wouldn't accomplish their teaching goals. "Faculty had to go through [the experience of remote teaching] for themselves," said Nichole Hudson, associate director for campus outreach for the Office of Online Education. "They tried some new things and then figured it out. Everyone survived, and we finished the term.
“But now, with more time and planning and resources, I consider this kind of the summer [for faculty] to level up and gain some skills."
The main way the office is leveling up faculty is through summer online instruction training, for which faculty are paid a $500 stipend. So far, more than 200 faculty members have taken advantage of the training.
With UNLV's larger courses currently ticketed for remote instruction in the fall, online offerings will be robust, making additional training an important opportunity for faculty who want to round out their materials.
Assistant professor of art Ashley Doughty said she’s now seeking more training and advice to improve her course delivery methods.
Her top concern is adjusting for students with limited technology resources, she said. "I want to figure out or see if other people have suggestions for how to make sure that students who don't have great internet access or don't have a computer with a video camera can still have the same level of involvement as other students who have all those things."
As she finished out the spring semester, Doughty did discover some unexpected benefits to remote instruction. In her graphic design classes, students working in small groups had more time to collaborate on assignments; post progress on projects in discussion groups; and give better, more thorough feedback to each other. She also found that students who had been reluctant to speak up in class were more active in posting their thoughts in digital forums.
Likewise, business professor Brad Wimmer was surprised by the high degree of participation in his classes’ chat function. He soon found that lectures that normally would take an hour or more would finish in 40 minutes because there weren't interruptions, only to find students waiting to fire volleys of questions at the end.
Both professors presented course content through videos that students needed to watch before class, and both found they were able to have more productive in-class discussions as a result.
In the fall, Wimmer plans to teach a microeconomics section remotely. The Lee Business School is also exploring the creation of a hybrid traditional and remote master's of business administration program.
Regardless of how permanent these changes might be, Wimmer did strike on a subtle, but crucial benefit from the shift to remote instruction.
"The online setting forces you to really put things together and really think about what you're doing," he said. "When you go up in a class and you've been teaching for a lot of years, you can just handle [problems]. If I'm in there, I can work it out.
“But [online] it's not as easy to change gears, at least not yet. I had to think more about what I want to accomplish in the class, and so I designed the class better. It's almost like I wasn't doing as good a job as I could before. And you start to realize that when you change what you're doing. Even if I never [teach remotely] again, I'll be better at what I do because I had to really think about what I’m trying to accomplish."