UW Oshkosh faculty adapt to online classes

Joseph Schulz and Amber Brockman

UW Oshkosh is switching from face-to-face instruction to online instruction to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, forcing faculty and staff to implement new technologies and adapt their courses to a digital format.

Last week, the university announced that it was canceling face-to-face classes for the week of March 16 and switching to alternative delivery methods beginning on March 30.

The announcement has posed major challenges for faculty and staff, as instructors have been scrambling to convert their classes to the digital setting.

“The nature of these changes have charged faculty and staff with coming up with novel solutions to make this situation work in a very short period of time,” UWO geology professor Joseph Peterson said of the transition.

But some classes are easier to adjust than others, as there’s already a lot of “hybrid teaching” at UWO, Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said at a press conference last week.

“We have some classes that just have no online analog and we’re going to simply have to work on those to figure out how to deliver them,” Leavitt said.

Carter Uslabar
Chancellor Andrew Leavitt’s announcement that in-person classes would be replaced with online classes in response to the coronavirus has left lecture pits empty and professors scrambling to adapt their courses to a digital format.

Lab classes are particularly difficult to deliver online because the whole point of having students complete lab work is to give them hands-on experience, according to chemistry department co-chair Brant Kedrowski.

Faculty and staff in the chemistry department are still considering their options and brainstorming about how to best move courses online, sharing ideas with each other and trying to develop “workable solutions,” he s


“It will definitely be a different experience moving these courses online,” Kedrowski said. “Like everyone else, we are going to do the best we can to get through this difficult situation.”

The faculty in the chemistry department aren’t alone, as the radio/TV/film department is in a similar situation, according to RTF department chair Andrew Smock.

“Moving our production-oriented courses online presents a number of challenges,” he said.

With the suspension of in-person courses, Smock said the department had to suspend checking out production equipment and the use of production and post-production facilities.

Smock added that he’s been meeting with RTF faculty members to discuss different approaches to ensure “core learning objectives of courses — whether production-based or not — are still met in the online environment.”

Courses will be different; they won’t be exactly what students signed up for — or what instructors originally envisioned, Smock added.

“There’s no denying that the courses will be different, that assignments will have to be reworked and in some cases replaced, that the student experience will be different,” Smock said. “However, we’re all committed to finding solutions that will allow our students to complete their courses in a meaningful way.”

The nursing program is also working to adapt its curriculum to an online setting, according to Bonnie Nickasch, associate professor and director of the Post-Licensure Program.

Nickasch said the nursing program has a lot of opportunities because students near graduation have already gone through all of the major hands-on courses, and are now gaining clinical experience with an outside firm.

Clinical programs are not considered on-campus programs, so they will continue the week of March 16. If an agency where students have clinicals the week of March 16 is still accepting students, the clinical experience will take place as normal, according to UWO’s COVID-19 webpage.

For nursing students earlier in the curriculum, the nursing department plans to use “some kinds of virtual simulation” and other online learning tools, Nickasch said.

Faculty aren’t the only ones working to adapt, as students are also worried about the change to online classes.

Kayla Baumann, a senior nursing student, said virtual labs can’t compare to in-person labs.

“Some of the skills like inserting IVs and putting catheters in, you can’t really get the same experience from watching a video,” Baumann said.

Laura Smolinski, UWO Assistant Director of Traditional BSN Program, said the College of Nursing has been providing online education for over 17 years.

“We have Collaborate, which is sort of a FERPA-compliant Skype, we can have real-time conversations with students, hold virtual office hours, answer questions, chat, case studies, discussions, etc.,” Smolinski said. “For exams, we have ExamSoft and Proctor-U capability so we can facilitate students taking secure online exams anywhere.”

The switch to online classes will require instructors to diligently engage students, as it’s much more difficult to determine if students are understanding the material, Smolinksi said.

“Asking discussion questions, sending routine emails, putting frequent announcements up on Canvas, Skyping or Facetiming students will help with this,” she said.

For lectures, professors have the option to deliver them synchronously, meaning live to their class digitally, or asynchronously, not live, according to UWO’s COVID-19 website.

Synchronous classes must be delivered at the same time as the class was originally scheduled.

One piece of software being used within Canvas is Collaborate Ultra. It allows professors to gather together as a class during regularly scheduled class time.

Through the platform, students can chat with their instructor in real-time, ask questions and react to topics.
Peterson has taught online before, and said that it varies drastically from teaching in person.

“Having taught online classes for over ten years and teaching in the classroom for over 15 years, I can attest that online classes and traditional classroom settings are very different in terms of organization, content delivery and expectations,” Peterson said. “Switching from one to the other unexpectedly is definitely going to pose a challenge.”

Peterson said this transition is bound to have an effect on students’ learning.

“Faculty and staff are working together to make the best of the situation and are trying to be as accommodating to students’ needs as possible,” Peterson said.

Although the transition is challenging, Peterson said students and faculty will work together in order to make the best of a difficult situation.

“Personally, I sincerely appreciate the patience and understanding of the students during this transition,” Peterson said. “I know that I can personally relate to this frustration regarding the sudden changes we have to make, but in this case, we are all in this together.”

While the transition won’t be painless for everyone, economics department chair Chad Cotti said it’s a necessary response to a global health crisis.

“Many instructors, students, friends and family will get sick, and some in higher-risk groups will die from this pathogen,” Cotti said. “Learning in the midst of such tragedy will be very challenging and require a great deal of understanding from everyone.”