By Madison Weber ’23, Staff Writer
It goes without saying that the lives of students were affected by the rapid closure of on-campus classes, but St John Fisher’s professors also felt the effects of this major modification — from a loss of a work space, intercollegiate opportunities, and the obvious loss of in-person classes with their students.
Classes for professors on Blackboard, Zoom and other new technology were available to staff through the campus Office of Information Technology prior to the semester. Staff were told to be ready to go online on a week’s notice when planning; going online could mean hybrid, hyflex, or fully remote. Labs are now being filmed “Bill Nye” style with professors doing experiments and students tuning in to watch.
When planning this semester, ethics and philosophy professor, Dr. Barbara Lowe, took precautions to hopefully minimize damage if Fisher were to move online. This meant completely rearranging the layout so that all of the traditionally “difficult” units were in the beginning. That way they would be most likely to be covered before a closure; “It felt like I was preparing for two types of classes,” Lowe said. This technique actually worked for Lowe for the most part, as she only had one unit left to teach before getting into individual projects when campus closed.
“I’m a trained teacher, that’s what I love, that’s my passion. Knowing students and watching them grow through the semester.”Along with Lowe, Dr. Michelle Saul, Biology and Anatomy & Physiology professor and psychology Professor Danielle Latore voiced missing the chance to connect with students and colleagues as what they missed most from campus. Latore reminisces watching her students work and hearing their discussions. Saul teaches an 8 a.m. where students typically don’t turn on their cameras so she can’t even see who she is teaching.
Zoom offers a breakout room feature that places students into smaller groups with a limited number of peers, giving them the chance to work in groups that was not possible this semester with in-person classes. Saul and Lowe added that these rooms have almost made things more personal, being that they no longer have to stay at the front of the room, no one needs to wear a mask and students seem to be willing to talk in a more intimate screen setting.
“There is more back and forth casual conversation, similar to a classroom,” Saul said.
Latore had to completely reinvent her teaching style after being at Fisher for 10 years. In previous years, she would have everyone in small groups working together and walk around checking on the groups. This year she was limited to a lecture style format, where she could only stand in the front of the class due to social distancing guidelines. With experience teaching online, hybrid, and in person classes, she doesn’t feel that lecture only is the best way to teach her class but is dedicated to changing and adjusting to meet the needs of students.
“It’s hands on, you’re supposed to be able to manipulate and touch materials. Online that is taken away.” Saul is most concerned with giving students the “same level of learning experience,” especially with her lab sections. As with Lowe and Latore, Saul was able to prep her classes to be able to move online prior to the start of the semester. This meant designing both possible online and in-person options for each unit. Fully remote labs consist of a mixture of online labs, videos, and Zoom meetings.
The past few weeks have required flexibility and patience from Fisher’s staff, and they seem to be tackling the changes head on. From ethics, to psychology, to anatomy and physiology labs. Latore commends students for “rolling with the punches,” but Fisher’s professors appear to be doing the same thing. As a parent of two young children herself, Saul sympathizes with students who have at home distractions. Being home with families means that most students are not just students, and professors are not just professors unlike the mainly academic environment found on campus.