Challenges of shifting from In-Person to Online Learning

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An empty classroom. Photo by Gina Chuang

When the COVID-19 virus became prominent in everyone's lives in March 2020, universities all over the world were faced with the tough decision to send their students home midway through the semester and continue classes virtually. Professors had to adjust classes to ensure quality education.

Online learning lasted a year at most universities, and during this time many of those universities noticed an increase in reported academic integrity violations.  

The initial decision to have two weeks off of school in March 2020 due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic provided students with a chance to get home and give faculty an opportunity to receive training on how they were going to readjust their classes and teach for the rest of the semester, according to Dave Berque, DePauw’s vice president of academic affairs. 

Faculty challenges

“I did a lot of work over the summer,” communications professor Melanie Finney said. “There was an organization that was run by a math professor out of Iowa who started a service called ‘Okay Zoomer.’ He gave a bunch of tips and there were workshops that people could sign up for.”

The result of such training was adapted teaching methods in the classroom. 

“Instead of me trying to fit the content into the platform, I tried to use the platform to enhance the content,” Finney said. “I would show up early to class every day and I would talk to students as they logged onto class. This allowed me to build a relationship with my students and create a sense of community within our online classroom.” 

Finney also required her students to keep their cameras on, created a playlist of her students' favorite music, and frequently changed the in-class activities to retain engagement. 

“I did end up teaching all my classes synchronously because I found students were more engaged that way. Another thing I did was every Sunday I would post a ‘what’s on tap’ video,” Finney said. “This was a way for me to connect with the students because I was able to tell them what we were going to be doing that week.”

However, not all professors at DePauw were able to conduct this level of engagement. Many instructors struggled when conducting group work, making it difficult for students to build relationships with one another and remain engaged in classes. 

Group work was challenging in some classes like chemistry labs, theater classes, music classes, and art classes, according to Berque. 

“Some students did remarkably well, other students struggled,” Finney said. “I graded more easily so I found that [students] had some of the best grades [they] had ever had. However, I did have some students fail and really struggle. I think it was hard for them to balance their home life and their academics. I tried to be a little more lenient, realizing that it was an incredibly challenging time for everybody.”

Student challenges

Some students began to spend more time on academics since classes were online and social life was limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I feel like all I did last semester [Spring 2021] was schoolwork,” senior Jillian Kim said. “I understand that we didn’t have much else to do, but the amount of time I spent on homework was much greater than it had been in the past. While my grades were improving, I also found that I was burnt out way earlier in the semester than I typically am.”

At DePauw, students were given the option to take classes pass/fail in hopes to relieve some of the stress the students were under. Berque said that the number of students who took classes pass/fail was profound, making it hard to compare the academic success of students pre and post-pandemic.

Increased academic integrity violations

Through online classes, some universities reported a significant amount of cheating, suggesting the deeper struggles that students were facing. Scott Spiegelberg, dean of academic programs, assessment, and policies at DePauw, spoke on the increase of academic integrity violations committed at DePauw during the online academic year. 

“We had 49 offenses reported. We went from 30 cases reported the previous academic year, to 49 during the online academic year. Of those 49, there were still four-second offenses and seven students went to hearing as opposed to only one student going to hearing the year before that,” Spiegelberg said.

He continued by saying, “There was an increase of 50% of the number of offenses reported and a large increase of the number of students who wanted to go to a hearing.” 

In previous years, the top offense was plagiarism followed by using illegal resources. During the online year, plagiarism was still the number one offense, but the second was disallowed collaboration, according to Spiegelberg. He is unsure why the increase in disallowed collaboration happened, considering many professors claimed to lessen the amount of work required from students.

“During the online year, I lived with a lot of girls that were in the same classes as I was,” junior Olivia Champa said. “It was hard not to collaborate with each other on projects because even if we weren’t working on it together, it was inevitable that we were going to talk about it around the house.”

From a professor's standpoint, Spiegelberg said, “I think there was an increase in violations because everybody was under a lot of stress. The biggest driver of students cheating is because they're feeling overwhelmed and stressed.” 

Because of the increase in violations, universities began to look at how the number of violations during the pandemic compared to the number of violations since returning to in person classes. Many students said that since returning to in person classes and extracurriculars being back in full swing, they have struggled being able to find the balance between academics, athletics, and other things that they are involved with. 

“Between classes, responsibilities within the sorority house, athletics and meetings I feel like I haven’t been able to figure out how to manage all of that,” sophomore Emma Huber said. “I think I just forgot how hard it was.” 

Spiegelberg thinks another reason why the number of academic violations are less this year than in the past is because “the faculty are understanding about how stressful it's been for everybody and are looking for more teachable moments rather than reporting. The faculty are just feeling the empathy, feeling the sympathy, and wanting to help them as much as they can.”