The Challenges and Benefits of Online Instruction: Navigating the Rough Waters of Teaching College Classes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Challenges and Benefits of Online Instruction: Navigating the Rough Waters of Teaching College Classes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Madalina F. Tanase, Shae Hammack
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6922-1.ch006
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Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators everywhere transitioned to an online environment. This abrupt transition brought about some challenges: educators shifted their content and activities online, while their students attended classes and completed assignments online. This action research study analyzed the challenges experienced by an educator and her students during the summer and Fall 2020 semesters at a mid-size university. The researchers collected student surveys about their experiences with online learning. Results highlight the educator's struggle to make learning more interactive, as well as students' challenges with navigating the online platform and maintaining focus in class. Conversely, the online experience provided the following benefits: flexibility (logging in from different locations), comfort (joining class from home), and convenience (recorded class sessions). In alignment with the action research, the educator will continue to reflect on her practice in an attempt to make changes to the instruction and content of her classes.
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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic (Rajab, Gazal, & Alkattan, 2020). This new virus, transmitted in just minutes through droplets or by touching surface metals or other materials which have been infected, can affect everyone, young or old, healthy or with pre-existing conditions (Bender, 2020; Meng, et al., 2020; Toquero, 2020). One after another, countries closed their borders, and governments issued stay at home orders (Rajab et al., 2020). As a result, businesses closed, many people lost their jobs and applied for unemployment, experiencing high levels of anxiety (Karademir, Yaman, & Saatçioğlu, 2020).

Educational systems worldwide have been adversely affected by the outbreak, as schools, universities, and colleges closed their doors (Huang, 2020; Rajab et al., 2020). As of April 06, 2020, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported 1,576,021,818 affected learners out of 91.3% total enrolled learners in 188 countries in all levels of learning. These closures led to a transition to the online format, prompting educators all over the world “rapidly and suddenly to adapt to what can only be described as an unprecedented emergency educational response” (Assunção & Gago, 2020, p. 2). Due to the swiftness of this transition, in most cases, many educators felt they did not possess a fundamental knowledge of the components involved in the processes of online teaching (Karademir et al., 2020). Moreover, this process was also unfamiliar to many students and parents (Bakker & Wagner, 2020; Erduran, 2020; Wang, Horby, et al., 2020).

Rajab et al. (2020) discussed the two main reported predictions about the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on online education. One such prediction was that the pandemic would adversely impact online education, because of the challenge posed by transitioning to online education, the financial burdens that result from a collapsing economy and with this, the crude reality that some college students will not afford college after the pandemic. In addition, the teaching/learning from home may carry extra challenges, as some of the faculty and students now needed to manage their children, elders, or siblings in the house.

Rajab et al. (2020) also predicted that the pandemic would positively impact online education, which had experienced growth through the years. One of the positive reasons is “the reset button to the ailing traditional educational system” (Rajab et al., 2020, p. 2), a re-vamping of some sorts of the educational system, pushing educators to design assessments that are in sync to the online teaching and to ensure that students stay engaged. To ensure the success of this transition, higher education institutions supported educators with developing their online courses. As such, 80% of institutions surveyed in a study conducted in US confirmed that faculty members were offered support for their online courses (Rajab et al., 2020).

This study aims to discuss the first author’s challenges with the transition to online teaching over the course of the summer and fall 2020 semesters. The authors reflect on the issues encountered while transitioning online in COVID times, and they propose solutions to remedy some of these challenges. In addition, this study presents challenges and benefits to online learning, as perceived by the students enrolled in the educator’s fall 2020 classes. The authors would like to note that the purpose of the chapter is not to reflect on the myriad of effective online teaching strategies (abundant in the literature of online teaching), but to specifically discuss one educator’s experience with online teaching during a highly stressful time period, as well as to offer some practical solutions to the encountered challenges.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Action Research: Research conducted by educators in their own classes, collecting data about their students’ educational experience, analyzing these data, and implementing changes in their practice and assessments as informed by their findings.

Breakout Sessions: Small group discussions used by educators to engage students in the online and face-to-face courses.

Canvas: A web-based platform used by students and educators to access and manage course materials for online and face-to-face classes.

Face-to-Face Instruction: A synchronous method of instruction where educators conduct teaching in a traditional class setting, meeting formally with students once or twice a week, on a predetermined course day/time.

Remote Instruction: A synchronous method of instruction where educators conduct teaching on different educational platforms, meeting formally with students once or twice a week, on a predetermined course day/time.

Distance Learning: An asynchronous method of instruction where educators conduct teaching by sharing course materials on different educational platforms, without meeting formally.

Zoom: An online platform used by people to communicate online to collaborate, hold meetings, hold classes, share documents.

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