It is hard to believe it has been a month since face-to-face classes were terminated and moved online. During all this chaos and turmoil, professors have had a new challenge on their hands – one that nobody expected to encounter during their years at Northwestern.
On March 13, President Greg Christy, the president’s cabinet, NW’s pandemic response team and the chairman of the board of trustees ultimately decided for the better of the campus, faculty and students, that the rest of the semester would transition to online instruction.
Weeks before the decision, Dr. D. Nathaniel Phinney, vice president for academic affairs, informed the faculty that NW “will very likely suspend physical classes some point during the spring semester” and that they should be ready to transition to 100% online courses.
During the next few weeks, 15 staff and faculty members, with the leadership of Dr. Rebecca Hoey, dean of graduate school and adult learning, helped prepare the faculty by making sure they were equipped for the first week of teaching online.
Though many professors were starting to transition to online, many worried about how they would be able to teach through a camera and not face-to-face, especially those in the arts.
“It has been a challenge for all of us in the arts to reimagine what it means to participate in our work,” said Karen Barker, the dean of arts and humanities.
The theatre department was no longer able to do programs like RUSH, Love’s Labour’s Lost and the Original One-Act Festival, along with other crucial elements that were lost by not being able to physically gather together.
“[Online teaching] does not allow for the parts of teaching that I enjoy the most: performing for a class by showing my enthusiasm and passion for the topic through my delivery, reading body language, seeing the light bulb go on [and] interacting with humor,” said Dr. Robert Hubbard, professor of theatre and director of the Northwestern Core.
For the art department, according to Professor Philip Scorza, “Students are still ‘making’ in our courses. Whether drawing selfies using differing tools, producing sculpture from food or producing a Master Copy.”
Another department that really had to reshape their teaching was the science department. They had to find a new way to conduct labs. Dr. Laura Furlong, the department chair for biology, thrives in the lab environment where she can interact with the students and learn from them.
“It feels less like teaching and more like teamwork to me,” she said. “Trying to replicate that type of activity and learning community is challenging online. If we had started the semester with the intention of teaching online labs, we could have sent out mini-experiments to the students and set up virtual lab partners. It is difficult to jump in mid-semester.”
Through all the stressful transitions, NW prides itself in still offering students the opportunity to have a Christian education, even if it’s online. And one thing is for sure: students and teachers miss each other’s in-person presence.
“It’s been nice to hear that the students miss being on campus and having face-to-face classes,” Furlong said. “It made me feel a little less lonely knowing that they miss our special community as much as I do.”