Art By Ally Armstrong
It can be equally as challenging for professors to keep students engaged over Zoom as much as it is for students to engage with the professor. With a semester of online school already in the books, it’s time to change how teachers approach online classes.
Student feedback at the end of the semester is vital for all professors to understand the logistics of what worked and what didn’t in a semester, which is even more relevant now. To ensure the most positive experience for their students in such an unprecedented time of learning, professors need to keep things fun and interesting.
Associate Professor of Religion Nicholas Zola said he altered how he structured his spring classes thanks to student feedback from the fall semester. Attendance wasn’t required in his classes last semester, and students admitted to a lack of inclination to attend class at all in the course evaluation at the end of the semester. Alongside the absence of a participation grade, he has made attendance required this semester.
Though only a minor change to the structure of his class, the major impact of omitting the participation grade eases the pressure of having to unmute just because a grade depends on it. Required attendance in exchange for an absent participation grade seems like a fair trade.
Even with the limitations of Zoom, Zola said he finds unique methods of ensuring his students are paying attention and engaging with the material. He utilizes a system of notecards where any student can expect to be called on to share a brief insight with the class at any time.
“When I call on your name at random, and you give an answer that shows that you’re paying attention, then that’s enough for me,” Zola said. “I’ve done that on purpose because, in this Zoom world that we live in, I recognize it’s going to be hard for everybody to stay engaged all the time.”
Even the most extroverted students found it difficult at times to actively engage in class. Both in and outside of the Pepperdine community, it is no secret that learning via Zoom has been accompanied by an overwhelming amount of stress over something as simple as unmuting a microphone.
“I feel like with in-classroom engagement, I would still participate typically, but via Zoom, I feel a lot more anxious to participate,” junior Katie Smith said. “I think just having an online setting makes it harder to feel more comfortable to participate.”
Participation, whether too demanding or not demanding enough, is all subjective.
“Classes that require opinions and perspectives utilize a lot more participation with breakout rooms,” Smith said. “In those settings, it’s really beneficial because one, you get to hear the perspectives of your other classmates, and two, it makes you feel like you know other people in your class rather than just sitting in class with strangers, so at least it creates a little bit better of community.”
Although class engagement can be advantageous in some courses, there is no blueprint for participation that applies as a comprehensive model for all classes.
“In my other courses that aren’t as perspective- and opinion-based, I hate to participate because I wonder if I have the right answer,” Smith said. “But with my BA 366 class, I enjoy the participation because you get to give more of an opinion and there’s no right or wrong answer necessarily, it’s just your perspective. So I think participation is helpful in those classroom settings, but it doesn’t work for every other classroom setting.”
A further constraint contributing to the adversity of online school is the different ways students learn and retain information. For students who aren’t auditory learners, listening to a professor lecture for the entire class can be frustrating and mundane.
“I’m more of a visual learner,” first-year Alexander Dingman said. “It’s nice when they have the accompanying PowerPoints.”
Rather than waiting until the end of the semester to receive student feedback on what worked and what didn’t, professors should be surveying their students now and adjusting their classes accordingly.
“We all develop our own ways to get comfortable,” Dingman said. “Try to change up the format, every three or four weeks. Basically, the idea is to keep students on their toes.”
It’s safe to say virtual modality has proven to be grueling for students and professors alike, and it’s important to note that all students are at different stages of comfortability with Zoom.
Whether it’s by better utilizing breakout rooms or restructuring class ever so often, students are looking for unique ways to stay engaged with the material, and now is the time for professors to try new things.
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