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Coronavirus in Oklahoma: How college professors transition to teach online

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Professors across the state are making plans to finish the semester via online courses. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]
Professors across the state are making plans to finish the semester via online courses. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

For the foreseeable future, the guest-room closet in Kate Brennan’s home will be a recording studio.

Brennan teaches voice and acting classes at Oklahoma City University, which, along with many other colleges in the state, announced that all courses would move online for the rest of the semester to limit the spread of COVID-19.

So Brennan spent spring break building her in-home studio, recording instruction videos and creating new assignments.

But it was challenging because her classes focus on physical movement, vocal performance and engaging with or in front of a group.

“We’ve been going nonstop to try and figure this out,” Brennan said. “We aren’t going to be able to do the same work online, but we will be able to do meaningful work online.”

Some courses are easier to transition than others (think a class with lectures and papers versus large chemistry labs), and some teachers have more experience online than their peers.

Regardless, professors throughout Oklahoma said they are committed to providing support and quality education to students despite the semester’s upheaval.

“It boils down to two things: communication with students and being flexible,” said Gina Noble, a communications professor at Oklahoma State University.

Noble said she’s rearranged her classes, adding some assignments and taking away others. There is a heavier focus on finding real-time examples for class, too, she said.

Sean Kelley teaches physical education at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and has courses on golf and racket sports this semester.

He’s giving students materials online to read and watch and then asking them to send in videos of their best golf swings.

“When you actually have to be there doing these things, that is the real challenge,” Kelley said. “I’m not a real high-tech person. … So it’ll be real basic right now. We’ll just have to see how long this goes.”

Shelley Rees teaches English at USAO and said the college currently has no online courses, so there is no model to work from.

“We are so small, and a big part of our selling point is our interaction with students,” Rees said. “So we’ve really tried to resist that … . But that means we are making it up as we go.”

Rees has rewritten assignments and learned how to operate Zoom, one of the main video platforms educators are using where multiple people can chat in real-time.

At the University of Oklahoma, history professor Warren Metcalf teaches a lecture class with over 200 students.

He’ll be able to record himself teaching those lectures for students to watch later, but the real snag could be transitioning to online discussion forums.

Metcalf’s course with graduate students working on research papers without access to OU’s library will require some flexibility, as well.

“I think a lot of people think that online instruction is less rigorous,” he said. “I think it can be. But I don’t think it is. The students are still accountable, and the grades they earn are, in fact, earned.”

Support from administrators and IT departments has also been helpful and abundant, the professors said.

And since many schools have implemented online classroom management systems, most faculty are at least somewhat acquainted with aspects of online learning.

At East Central University, over two-thirds of faculty had already been trained in developing online courses prior to this shift, said Brenda Sherbourne, vice president for academic affairs.

“I am extremely proud of the ECU faculty pulling together,” Sherbourne said in an email. “As we move completely online, 25 of the most proficient online instruction faculty members have agreed to volunteer to help other faculty move face-to-face courses online.”

Questions remain about things like testing and exactly how live communication with every student will work over the next several weeks, but educators at the state’s colleges seem confident.

“Everybody is really stepping up,” said Noble, the OSU professor.

“Everyone is working hard to make things best for the students. … When I wrote to students, I promised them they will get their education. I am still going to teach them, though it might be a different delivery.”

Kayla Branch

Kayla Branch covers county government and poverty for The Oklahoman. Branch is a native Oklahoman and graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She joined The Oklahoman staff in April 2019. Read more ›

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