At the beginning of the year, when we all heard about COVID-19, it seemed that it was still far away enough to not affect our everyday lives. But as time passed, we realized that we were in the middle of a pandemic and that somehow our lives would change. From jobs and school to grocery shopping and socializing, so many aspects of daily life had to change.
At Illinois State University, in response to the growing pandemic, faculty, staff, and students were informed of big changes in mid-March that were necessary for personal health, safety, and well-being. Through the summer and as the fall semester approached, faculty were preparing in earnest for the new academic year that also would feature online classes. The university created a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response website to keep all Redbirds and the public informed about what has been going on.
In the School of Communication (COM) at Illinois State University, many faculty members have experience leading classes online while others have limited experience with online teaching and learning. Even so, COM faculty worked hard to prepare material for their students. COM faculty also helped one another with their designs for their online classes. Knowing that online teaching and learning would be the new norm for the fall semester, some faculty were excited to have their fall classes completely online, but others were a bit nervous.
Along with all other ISU faculty, COM faculty have been adjusting to the new norms of online classes and working off campus. Although, for some faculty, the adjustment wasn’t just about online teaching and learning–they had to also complete research projects and contribute service work. With the pandemic getting worse as the time went by, faculty members saw their schedules looking a bit different than usual. Professor and executive director for the School, Dr. Stephen Hunt, explained how doing research and service was not necessarily shut down but, rather, just slowed down.
“The work that it took to get classes ready and to run the classes competes with the time you might have to do things like research,” Hunt said. “So research is still happening. It’s maybe not at the same pace as it was before the pandemic, but it’s still continuing.”
Although the pandemic is affecting every faculty member in a different way, this didn’t stop them from continuing to do things that they love to do as scholars and educators. Some aspects did change, such as travel or group meetings, but overall they were creative with the way they managed to get things done.
A vital factor for classes has been helping students feel connected to each other while taking classes online. (See Hillary Campos’ story about graduating during the pandemic.) With so many changes in life happening, faculty learned to adjust to the new norms for teaching and learning. Instructional Assistant Professor Jenifer Milligan explained how some of the tools we have helped her with online teaching.
“Having Zoom is the closest thing we have to being actually face to face,” Milligan said. “What online teaching and learning offers is an opportunity for some of my more-reserved students to speak up and contribute in class in ways that help them feel comfortable.”
Although having online classes has been an adjustment for everyone, the professors have attempted to make the best out of the pandemic-based situation. Both students and faculty miss having in-person interactions in classrooms, in hallways, and elsewhere on campus. But the change to virtual classrooms created opportunities for students to feel comfortable and welcomed in new ways. Dr. Joseph Zompetti had been preparing his online classes through Illinois State University’s resources, such as the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, to adjust to the changes.
“I went to three different professional-development workshops to learn how to do this stuff,” Zompetti said. “Having these workshops helped me feel more comfortable with using Zoom and other sites. The workshops were beneficial with providing me with helpful tools I can use in my classes.”
Overall, faculty have been working hard to connect with students and focus on their success. Having everyone in COM working together has been a blessing, striving to create successful virtual environments where learning is the center of it all. Being able to get through a semester during a pandemic has been new to everyone. Faculty and students have proven to be resilient in teaching and learning in the face of great obstacles.