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Professors reflect on struggles and success after a year of teaching virtually

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Lindsey Pacela
Staff Writer

Since the start of the pandemic last March when classes went all online, many University of La Verne faculty members have worked hard to teach to the best of their abilities while also looking out for their students.

Learning through the pandemic has not just been challenging for those on the receiving end of education. From mastering new technology to self-care strategies for students – it’s been a learning curve for all involved, including some golden moments.

Jason Neidleman, professor of political science, said that in some ways for him teaching online the past year has been a “sweet spot” between his introverted and extroverted natures. Although it had been difficult to begin the process of online teaching, he has come to find it more enjoyable than when it first began.

He compared the faculty’s advance preparedness for this to Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria preparedness, noting how quickly the faculty rose to the challenge at hand.

Although the University was originally not prepared for the impact of the pandemic, the effects of it could hopefully be enough to begin anticipation and adaptability for another potential catastrophe, Neidleman said.

“The students’ ability to overall adapt and have that understanding for the professors has been amazing,” Claire Angelici, instructor of modern languages, said. 

Not that there weren’t challenges.

Angelici said that video mute and avoiding “teaching into the void” was one challenge she worked hard to overcome with her students. She began to offer extra credit for those students who kept their video on. The face-to-face connections are so crucial, she said. 

“It’s not just the teaching online that has had to be coped with, but all the catastrophes surrounding it, like the deaths, the racial injustice, and the wildfires,” Megan Granquist, director of the athletic training program and professor of kinesiology, said. “It’s layers of heartbreak.”

Granquist, like many professors, said that the student bodies’ resilience to the pandemic was inspiring. It taught her to be patient and allow herself permission to not be perfect, as she put it.

Keeping students interactive during class has also been a common goal for professors during quarantine. Utilizing new and old tools such as Kahoot, dance breaks to Bruno Mars, and Jamboard, an interactive online whiteboard, have been some of the ways Gyasmine George-Williams, assistant professor of education counseling, has been keeping students in touch during classes. She said that incorporating self care into her teaching has been crucial as well.

George-Williams often holds check-ins during the week for her students to ask about any of the curriculum, but also to talk about any problems they may be having outside of school.

“Twenty percent of the time, [they] are about school, the other 80% end up being a safe space for them to open up about what’s really bothering them,” George-Williams said.

Incorporating new ways of teaching has been one of the few true positives for some professors. Dion Johnson, director of art galleries, said he was able to make available new drawing software, which is something he plans to bring into his teaching when back to in-person learning. Other professors also enjoyed using new online tools for learning and agreed that they too would bring it back into the classroom when the time comes.

Making their way back into the classroom presents a new challenge for professors, as adapting to everyone’s comfort levels will be new territory to be surveyed. D. Hill, adjunct professor of photography, said that now more than ever, students have been using their creativity to voice their emotions and feelings. 

He assigned a digital photo journal for his photography class, which he said has become a “visual voice” for them. Many of his students are just becoming comfortable with opening up, as a reflection to the lack of in-person connective expression. That is why it is so important that people’s boundaries are respected when back to in-person learning, he said.

“We will feel that same shock going back as we did when going virtual,” he said. ”We can get through it together if we respect one another, let’s all do it together so we can get back to what we once called the norm.”

Lindsey Pacela can be reached at lindsey.pacela@laverne.edu.

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