The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted how Florida Southern College students are receiving their education.
One of these major changes came on Aug. 10 when President Anne Kerr sent out an email stating that only certain majors and select students would be allowed to attend in-person classes this semester due to COVID-19 health concerns.
“These conditions require the college to alter its opening plans for the fall semester to pursue a model that mitigates the risk of virus transmission on our campus and in the Lakeland community,” Kerr stated in the email.
Prior to the start of the semester, professors went through training on Canvas, Portal, Zoom and other learning platforms to ensure that they were prepared for classes this fall, but remote learning has posed challenges for many students and professors alike as they navigate a new approach to teaching and learning.
Senior Katie Hoffman is one of the students taking her classes remotely this semester.
“I surprisingly haven’t had as many issues as I anticipated, but I have had a few,” Hoffman said. “On the first day of one of my classes, the remote learners momentarily lost connection with our professor, so we could not see or hear what she was saying.”
FSC has many safety protocols in place for on-campus students such as mask and distancing requirements. FSC assured students and parents in an email on Aug. 10 that remote learning would be successful. Technology upgrades such as placing cameras in classrooms are meant to enhance the remote experience for all students.
“While coursework and faculty instruction will look different from in-person classes, it will be the same material taught by the same professors at an equal level of excellence,” President Kerr stated in the email from Aug. 10. “Florida Southern is ready for remote instruction.”
As a result of COVID-19 protocol at Florida Southern, professors are urged to use less paper with in-class assignments and interactive activities in class, leading professors to turn to Canvas, the school’s new Learning Management System to post assignments for both students who are in face-to-face classes and those taking their classes remotely.
“I am relying heavily on Canvas where I post recordings of lectures and discussions and provide files containing the slides from presentations, supplemental readings and all assignments,” Associate Professor of Biology Christy Wolovich said. “In my classes that include field activities (e.g. Animal Behavior & Field Ecology), I have modified assignments to ensure that students can either complete the activities at home using typical household items or through simulated activities online.”
Despite preparations, remote learning has not come without challenges for both students and professors.
“The biggest challenges are finding ways to teach on campus learners and remote learners simultaneously,” Wolovic said. “There can be technical difficulties in the classroom that hinder everyone’s ability to hear and see all of the information. Although teaching in a mask is absolutely necessary at this point, teaching to the remote learners on a screen while wearing a mask can be challenging at times.”
Many professors have taken steps beyond that training to check-in with their remote students and ensure that they are just as successful as their face-to-face classmates. These steps include (but are not limited to) posting recordings of lectures, utilizing both Canvas and the Portal and adapting to online assignments.
“From a positive standpoint, though, I do like that I am able to gain access to previous lessons through Canvas,” Hoffman said. “My professors are recording all of the Zoom/Microsoft Teams sessions and posting them online, so I do like that I am able to go back and rewatch them if I missed something during class or while studying for a quiz or exam.”
Professors have also indicated having positive experiences with remote learning and teaching thus far.
“So far, it seems that students are exhibiting a great deal of flexibility,” Wolovich said. “I appreciate that the FSC students seem to acknowledge that faculty are also dealing with significant changes this year. My on-campus learners have been patient with me and the remote students. Also, I love Zoom and think that class discussions using the break out rooms have been just as fruitful as in-person class discussions.”