Zoom Q&A with EWU professors and students

In light of the recent transition to online classes, The Easterner speaks with faculty and students to ask about their experience with Zoom

By Ben Blakney, Reporter

With EWU’s recent efforts to flatten the COVID-19 curve, a transition to online learning through Zoom was one of the first major changes. As with all change, a new learning obstacle was introduced to a previously comfortable environment.

The Easterner asked EWU students and professors how they were feeling about this new enrollment at Zoom University.

To begin, The Easterner interviewed instructors in a variety of intricate fields, including Professor Carlos Munoz, instructor for the English department, and a responder for the writer’s center. Following him was Professor Kate Crane, an assistant professor also of the English department. The Easterner also had conversations with Professor Kevin Decker of the philosophy department and Professor Michael Gerety, interim jazz studies director and lecturer. Further, The Easterner spoke with Professor Chris Tyllia, a senior instructor in the art department specializing in ceramics. 

Professors’ perspective

T.E.: Have you ever taught an online class before?

Munoz: “Yes, I’m fairly new though. I just started last year … (online) is not my primary experience. My background is in technical communication, so I’m comfortable with communications (through) technology, and getting users to interact with content and get the action you want … But yeah, fairly new to that format.”

Crane: “Yes. I first taught online in 2007, but at a different institution (using) correspondence … mail-based learning. That model moved into (modern) online learning … I primarily teach face-to-face.”

Decker: “I have, actually. One of the first things I did when I got here at Eastern in 2005 was to develop introductory ethics online … I have a couple of things that I’ve offered online as well like philosophical voices and pop culture, which is of course I created when I got to Eastern because we didn’t have anything like it.”

Gerety: “No. I’ve utilized Canvas in classes, (but) I have not taught a class completely online … music is kind of a hard thing (to teach online) outside of a couple core classes … And of course, ensembles are almost impossible to do online. But we’re finding workarounds with all of that.”

Tyllia: “Not fully online. I’ve done some hybrid before.”

Student perspective

The Easterner also spoke with some students regarding their online experience at EWU, namely Tia Fisher, a junior studying psychology who has taken online classes prior to this quarter.

T.E.: How does this quarter compare to your previous learning experiences?

Fisher: “This is a little bit of a change but overall it isn’t too bad so far. Learning in the classroom is definitely a lot easier for me personally. I just have a better time learning when I put myself in a classroom environment. It was a little hard organizing all my assignments at first.”

T.E.: Do you like Zoom? Why or why not?

Fisher: “Zoom is pretty neat. I have a class that meets two times there and it’s a great alternative for us not being able to meet in person. It’s nice to be able to talk to the professor or other students as close to face-to-face as we can right now.”

T.E.: Does the classroom feel the same (or as close as possible) to meeting in-person?

Fisher: “Zoom helps with the classroom setting but it still is a little bit different. We don’t go over as much as we would in person I feel. I definitely miss the social aspect of classroom settings and being able to make friends with the people around me.”

T.E.: Anything to add?

Fisher: “Although this quarter is a little bit different for all of us, I hope all goes smoothly – Especially for the people taking math or other difficult courses online like myself. I just hope we get to be back for fall quarter!”

A change to routine

As the interviews moved forward, The Easterner asked the professors how the pandemic had changed up their instructional routines.

T.E: How does this new pandemic learning environment change up your typical teaching style, be it on or offline?

Munoz: “I had to change up for Zoom, because we do a lot of discussion in our face-to-face writing and English classes, and I can’t watch every breakout group! I can’t just walk around the classroom, so (I’ve) adjusted to that.”

Crane: “I already had a model to work with, but I had to make a decision: to go synchronous [meaning you still meet with people in real time, and try to have a class], or to try to make everything asynchronous.”

Decker: “I think that to a certain extent, I have to lower expectations. And that’s not a judgment call or a judgement about students or their abilities. But the recognition that in difficult times like this, for example, for me to set a class that synchronously meets like through Zoom, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 10 o’clock. I know some professors are doing that. I don’t have to do that.”

Gerety: “I try to make (my classes) as experiential as possible, so we do a lot of singing through the theoretical concepts we learn. And so that’s one thing that we’re missing out on right now … utilizing some screen sharing and some Apple Pencil writing on digital staff paper on my iPad, some different technology that simulates having actual whiteboards so we can do seminar based stuff and write things in real time. I tried to do as much as I possibly can to set up just the digital version of our classroom.”

Tyllia: “So normally, we’d be looking at glass, glaze and clay. We’re (instead) looking at tangentially related materials. Instead of glass, I’m going to do a unit on hard candy and look at molten sugar. We’re gonna do a little kitchen sugar demo and that people have the opportunity to make hard candy essentially, as a way of just talking about heat, talking about glass, and talking about molten materials.”

Adjustments to meet needs of students

Earlier, Fisher’s student perspective illustrated how this new method of learning presents new challenges. The Easterner asked the professors how they’ve adjusted to meet the needs of their students:

T.E.: What sorts of alterations have you made with students in mind?

Munoz: “I try to smile a lot more, especially … with brand new students … (and) definitely a lot more things typed on webpages. In the past, I’ve used a lot of PDFs, and that’s not really an option here. A lot more HTML-type content, that can be loaded on (smaller) phones and (other devices).”

Crane: “I don’t have an attendance policy this term: I’m not gonna be the person who says ‘oh, I’m sorry you have a screaming child around and won’t go down for their nap: You should have been here anyway.’ I’ll find a participation assignment for you to do so you get that credit. Sometimes, the last thing you need to do is show up for class when there’s something else happening.”

Decker: “Students today are already used to an environment in which gaming and communication through social media, etcetera, (are common )… students realize that really they need to have the academic and professional mindset when they get into that work, because we’re looking for that as well.”

Gerety: “I said to my students on day one: ‘I’m going to be as accommodating to you as you need me to be. And I hope that you can all be as accommodating as you need to be to us (professors).’ Obviously, we have goals, and we have standards, and we have objectives and things that we have to learn. But we’re going to be flexible in the way that those things are delivered. And as long as we can make sure that you’re understanding and doing the work, we can be flexible, because the students, you know, didn’t sign up for this. Nobody signed up for this.”

Tyllia: “Everything has to be rethought to supplies and obviously, kilns are out of the question. So, I was tasked with trying to come up with essentially kitchen table ceramics: We’re actually starting to make playdough …  and to start using it for some of our exercises.”

Class in session

One thing many students are still unsure about is classroom conduct in Zoom. If students are attempting to go to class online from their bedrooms, how do class rules work?

T.E: Are class rules [no eating/smoking/dress code etc.] enforced the same way?

Munoz: “I think it still is, but I tell my students you don’t have to show your webcam or turn on your microphone, just for privacy reasons … Most students in my class turn off their audio and their video, and then we use just the chat feature, and then when they go into the breakout groups, they’ll turn them on there because they feel more comfortable with their peers. I give them the option.”

Crane: “Right now, it’s only been a week, so I’m not sure if I’ve had any real problems yet.”

Decker: “I think ultimately they won’t because the sanctioning power of the professor, other than giving a presence is not there. Also, there’s the ability to pull a student aside at the end of class and say, ‘You know, hey, you know, you really spoke up today and you haven’t been doing that and that’s really great (could be missing on Zoom).’ So, both positive and negative reinforcement (has changed).”

Gerety: “So we just need to be as respectful of each other’s learning environment as possible. I just basically ask that if you’re in a quiet place, you can keep unmuted and chime in as needed. My classes are pretty informal in the sense that we talk a lot in seminars, people raise their hands, but sometimes they just say, ‘Alright, hey, who needs to talk? Let’s have a discussion to clarify this stuff.’”

Tyllia: “I think the biggest thing is, I’m just trying to be as flexible as possible. I think I’m hearing that a lot from a lot of my colleagues and students around is that we’re all kind of just figuring this out, and if you have questions, ask again.”

Final thoughts

Finally, The Easterner asked these professors for any final thoughts.

T.E.: Anything to add?

Munoz: “(Some) things I’ve learned from students so far: to be flexible. Some students are working long shifts, with the internet going in and out; I’ve definitely been more open-minded to the abstractness of things.”

Crane: “We all have to have empathy for each other, and for ourselves. We all have different circumstances/resources/responsibilities that are playing against our schoolwork, so practicing empathy for students is one thing that we all need to do. If we all realize this is a hard situation to be in, that makes it easier for us to work together.”

Decker: “Every faculty member that I’ve talked to is saying that they want to give some wins in these times with their difficulties. I’d like to ask students to do the same for faculty … Don’t assume the worst, because we’re all in this together and ultimately we’ll get through it.” 

Gerety: “I would just say I’m really proud of the students and faculty for diving in and just trying to find ways to do this … For my firsthand experience and seeing these professional musicians and educators and students all really coming together and finding ways to problem solve and make it work, which is great, because music is a wonderful thing for us to be able to work through in this strange time.”

Tyllia: “I just want to get this out to everyone, just send emails to your professor, send emails to me. I’ve been checking my emails like crazy trying to get back to people, but communication is going to be key. And I just keep trying to tell that to everybody. I’m seeing students who are freaking out like, ‘I haven’t heard back yet.’ Just keep communicating. We’ll try to get through this together. But flexibility is really going to be important.”

EWU’s community has been shaken up in ways history has never before seen. In the wake of all of this uncertainty, though, EWU is attempting to make sure that community still stands, even if only virtually.