Students, faculty adjust to online finals


Ally Hansen | Staff Photographer

Some professors are altering their expectations regarding finals.

By Elise Roessner, Staff Writer

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Pitt students may have to hold study groups over Zoom instead of in Hillman library this April, but finals will still be conducted as the semester draws to a close.

The last week of spring semester classes has come to an end, and students and faculty are now focused on finals week. Some faculty are using CourseWeb to post exams, while others are relying on email to receive students’ final essays and projects.

Jeff Wheeler, a lecturer in the mathematics department, teaches Applied Discrete Mathematics, Mathematical Problems In Business, Industry and Government, Graph Theory and Discrete Structures For Computer Science. Wheeler said he is attempting to give as close to standard exams as possible given the shift to online learning, although he has changed some of his questions to be slightly easier. 

“This is a pandemic. People are confused, scared, worried about loved ones and may even know someone that has died,” he said. “My expectations will be slightly lower under these circumstances.”

Wheeler said he is permitting students to use books and notes on exams but is restricting the time students may spend on the test to two hours. His students will have 24 hours to start the test after it is posted in order to account for differing time zones and technical difficulties.

“I will distribute the exams at 9 a.m. Pittsburgh time, which could be 6 a.m. or earlier for some or after midnight for others, and there are always concerns with internet connections,” Wheeler said. 

Channing Parker, a visiting assistant instructor in the statistics department, is currently teaching three sections of Basic Applied Statistics. She is making her 2.5-hour exams available to students over a longer period of time than the test will take to complete. 

“Typically, I would have a final exam for a class on the University-scheduled day and time for about two hours. However, with students all over the world, that isn’t really possible, so I decided to make the exam available all of finals week,” Parker said. 

Parker said she is worried that holding the exam over such a long period of time will make it harder for her to stay on top of students’ questions, but ultimately decided it was the best option under the circumstances.

Other than scheduling difficulties, Parker said formatting exams has been her biggest issue as finals week approaches. Parker explained she has had to leave out certain questions or combine questions and answers in order to put them under one example as anything outside of a simple multiple-choice question is challenging to fit into an online exam.

“I have set-ups that apply to several questions and it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to implement that type of format on CourseWeb,” Parker said. 

Parker also said she had to shift her syllabus around in the move to online classes. She removed a couple of topics from her original plan for the class and shortened and combined some lectures. 

“I was able to get through everything, but not in the most ideal and detailed way,” Parker said. 

Wheeler said due to the loss of a week of classes and lower class engagement in online lectures, he was also unable to cover all of the material he hoped to teach. 

“Given the incredible psychological and emotional drain caused by the pandemic, I did not have the gas pedal down on getting through the material,” Wheeler said. 

Abby Dean, a first-year studying biological sciences, said the shift to online learning has made classes and finals week much more stressful. She explained the hardest part over the last few weeks has been motivating herself to stay on schedule and turn assignments in. 

“It was much easier to go and just sit through classes than it is to listen to someone drone on with a computer when I have so many things I’d rather be doing,” Dean said. 

Dean said one thing helpful in the shift online is the satisfactory/no credit option the University extended to all students. She was worried about technical issues that could result in her missing assignments, but said the availability of the S/NC option means she knows her GPA won’t suffer. 

“I’m grateful for the pass/fail option because I’ve had worries about technical issues where things were due that I didn’t see because CourseWeb is structured obnoxiously or I worried that I wouldn’t get assignments turned in because of some glitch,” Dean said. 

Parker said the last couple of weeks were hard on faculty in addition to students as the University attempted to adjust to a new way of learning, but she is proud of the consideration students have shown the semester comes to an end. 

“One upside to this whole situation is that students have been exceedingly patient and understanding. I am incredibly proud of my students for their perseverance,” Parker said.