Students, professors complete first day of online classes

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Hannah Heisler | Senior Staff Photographer

Most professors’ lectures will now be accessed electronically through Panopto or Zoo

By Elise Roessner, Staff Writer

Spring has arrived — and, with it, the start of online classes at Pitt.

Virtual instruction began at the University on Monday after an extended break. Professors are utilizing a variety of platforms that the University has provided, ranging from Panopto, an online lecture system through CourseWeb, to Zoom, a video-conferencing program that allows professors to teach in real time. Instructors are also posting assignments and discussion boards on Canvas and Blackboard.

Channing Parker, a visiting assistant instructor in the statistics department, said using the online teaching programs during her classes on Monday went well and that the biggest problems in moving classes online arose during planning. Parker teaches three sections of Basic Applied Statistics with about 88 students in each class.

“There were a couple small technical problems with getting the sound to start working and with figuring out how to use Panopto, but after I figured everything out, it wasn’t too bad. The hardest part was the week before today, learning how to move everything online and how to use all of these new softwares very quickly,” Parker said.

Rachel Sadeh, a first-year studying psychology, said even though the shift to virtual learning has been accompanied by changes to class syllabi and the introduction of new online learning programs, all of her classes on Monday went smoothly.

“The stress level hasn’t changed much, but everything feels very different,” Sadeh said. “I still prefer being in the lecture hall and not staring into a computer screen, but it is nice not having to leave the comfort of my home.”

Rather than strictly synchronous lectures, Alison Patterson, a lecturer in the English department, set up her Children and Media class on Canvas with prerecorded presentations and lectures students can view on their own time. She explained she is being careful to not overwhelm her students with too much new information or projects at once.

“In my usual online classes I’ve built in creative production elements throughout but this is unanticipated. It’s not the time to increase demands on our students,” Patterson said.

Patterson explained that she chose not to hold class over Zoom due to concerns about students’ ability to find a quiet space at a set time. She also did not want students in a different time zone to worry about attending class.

Parker and Patterson both described the challenges presented by not being face-to-face with students in the same physical space. Patterson worried about lectures not being nearly as engaging while Parker expressed concern about helping students with difficult concepts online.

“I can’t walk through problems with the students nearly as easily. I am very much a visual explainer, which has posed a challenge for me,” Parker said.

Katie Carr, a sophomore majoring in public and professional writing, explained that her Drawing Studio 1 course changed drastically, as her class can no longer meet to work together.

“We relied on studio time to practice and critique each other’s work. Now I will just draw two more pieces and submit photos of them online,” Carr said.

Carr also expressed worry over the change to class structures, specifically about managing her time.

“I am someone that needs structure to help me stay focused,” Carr said. “I use lists and a planner but still do my best when I am in face-to-face classes where we can easily ask questions and talk about assignments.”

Parker said staying focused without physical classes to teach is also a big issue for her. She suggested that anyone concerned with staying on task should set aside specific times to complete classwork and stick to them.

“I am easily distracted, and it is also difficult to get motivation when you are cooped up inside,” Parker said. “Making a day-to-day schedule for myself has made it much easier for me to manage my time.”

Carr said she is grateful for the effort and support that professors are giving students.

“My professors have been adaptable and supportive and offer virtual office hours for any concerns we have,” Carr said. “They are doing the best they can under the circumstances we are living in, and I applaud them for that.”

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