by Dr. Timothy D. Veenstra and Dr. Elisha Injeti
The arrival of COVID-19 brought rapid changes to seemingly normal routines within our daily lives. We quickly became aware of hand sanitizing stations that had gone unnoticed before. Upon leaving our homes to go to work, church, or shopping, we had to remember to grab our face masks. While in the past we took little notice of people in our vicinity, we developed a sixth sense (i.e., “over-crowding radar”) that detected individuals within our immediate proximity. Educational institutes, specifically, were forced to undergo rapid changes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In the middle of the spring 2020 semester, in-school classes for elementary, high school, college, and university students were canceled, requiring teachers to deliver lessons remotely. A Bay View Analytics survey revealed that during the pandemic 90 percent of institutions used some form of online education to complete the spring 2020 semester (Ralph, “Perspectives”). This survey also revealed that 97 percent of the institutions employed faculty that had no online teaching experience, which required almost 60 percent of the surveyed faculty to incorporate teaching methods they had not used previously in their careers. In most cases, teachers had a matter of days to alter their teaching format from in-classroom to remote instruction.
The major teaching tool impacted by COVID-19 has been the class lecture. This tool is a fundamental part of instruction at the high school and college level. Lectures are designed to help students understand topics and concepts that they have not been introduced to previously. The role of the professor is to present the information using terms and analogies that students can understand. Once students understand the basic concepts, they can expand their understanding of the topic by reading or viewing other related materials. In-person lectures facilitate interactions between students and teachers so that lectures can be interrupted at any point to further clarify difficult-to-understand concepts. Having to deliver lectures remotely presented many challenges to both the teacher and student.
These challenges fell into two main categories: teaching effectiveness and technology. The Bay View Analytics survey indicated that almost one-half of teachers reduced the class workload for students and about one-third lowered their standards for judging student work quality (Ralph, “Perspectives”). These responses were probably partially due to the lack of confidence many teachers felt in their ability to effectively teach online. Technology issues centered around the use of video conferencing software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. While online instruction has grown significantly over the years, again most teachers had very little experience in educating students via this format. Teachers faced many uncertainties. Those with little or no experience in organizing or participating in a Zoom meeting were now being asked to arrange one for an entire class. There were many worries: What if I scheduled it wrong? Do I use the waiting room option or not? What if there’s an echo during the lecture? While students can electronically “raise their hand” to ask a question, how can I continuously monitor all the students? How do I minimize the awkward pauses when students verbally interject questions and I try to recognize the student who asked the question?
In our own experience as professors, we felt angst before every class, wondering if the Zoom meeting was going to be activated at the correct time. While some schools had in-house experts to offer instruction, most teachers had to quickly learn either Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet on their own. On the infrastructure side, we were unsure if all students had access to high-speed internet. Not knowing each student’s internet situation introduced uncertainty on how well each live lecture could be viewed. An added caveat to teaching at the university level was that not all students lived within the same time zone. When we taught a live class scheduled at 8 a.m. EST, students who lived on the West Coast would have to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to prepare to attend the lecture. While getting up early builds character, we found it understandable if these students slept in and missed this lecture occasionally.
A good practice for preparing for any presentation that requires visuals is to have multiple back-up plans to ensure that the presentation can be effectively delivered. Our primary back-up plan if the live lecture did not go seamlessly was to post pre-recorded lectures approximately three to five days prior to the actual class meeting time. While it is common practice to post lecture slides on the class page, the videos were a new feature, with added benefits. For the students, the videos provided narrative and anecdotes that described the material, which helped their understanding of the topics. A benefit to us as teachers was that by pre-recording the lectures, we were better prepared for the live session. Since we were able to “rehearse,” we were much more familiar with the material as we presented it during the live session. This familiarity allowed us to add additional explanations, examples, and discussions during the live session to help students better understand the material. Another advantage of these pre-recorded lectures was the flexibility to teach even during the snow days. When classes were cancelled due to bad weather, we were able to post the pre-recorded lectures and stay on schedule for the rest of the semester.
Although not required, most students took advantage of the opportunity to watch the pre-recorded lectures prior to the lectures. A possible criticism of posting pre-recorded lectures is their redundancy with the live counterpart. However, while their main premises were the same, the lectures were not entirely redundant, as different phrasing and analogies were used. From our vantage as instructors, having the pre-recorded video available allowed us to spend more time on key concepts during the video-conference time.
What was the students’ reaction to the pre-recorded lectures?
Dr. Veenstra is an associate professor in the School of Pharmacy at Cedarville University where he teaches medicinal biochemistry, pharmacogenomics, and immunology. He holds a bachelor of science in chemistry and a doctor of philosophy in biochemistry. He previously worked at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and he has worked in various labs around the United States, including the National Cancer Institute in Maryland. He has spent most of his career in research, primarily in the fields of oncology and neurology, developing mass spectrometry technologies for use in disease detection and identification of key molecules involved in disease progression. He has co-authored almost four hundred peer-reviewed manuscripts and written or edited seven books.
Dr. lnjeti is an associate professor in the School of Pharmacy at Cedarville University. He has a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, a master’s degree in pharmacology, a doctor of philosophy in pharmacology, and a certification in biomedical and clinical ethics. He has been teaching pharmacokinetics and pharmacology to pharmacy students for about fourteen years. His research on skeletal muscle metabolism and vascular biology are published in journals for physiology, pharmacology, and molecular biology. He has served in different professional organizations such as the American College of Clinical Pharmacology and American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists and is currently a member of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.