UT professors adapt to online teaching with resources, support from coworkers

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Photo Credit: Valeria Trevino | Daily Texan Staff

Prior to the shift to online learning, anthropology sophomore Kylie Terry said one of her classes did not use Canvas at all. 

“It was all paper-based,” Terry said. “We didn’t have any online communication other than email with our professor. He is in his mid- to late-80s and had a TA work his PowerPoints because he didn’t know how to.”

For professors like Terry’s, the transition to online learning has been met with a variety of resources. From online training to receiving help from coworkers, professors are finding unique ways to adapt. 

UT communications manager Kathleen Harrison said the University provided faculty with digital workshops in March and April for using Zoom and Canvas. 

Barbara Chisholm, a lecturer in the Department of Theater and Dance, said she was not aware of any University-wide training options. Instead, she said she spent her spring break watching training videos made by Julie Schell, another professor in the College of Fine Arts who was asked by the college to create these videos.  

“It was perfect for me, like Zoom for beginners,” Chisholm said. “I had never even heard of Zoom a month ago. I started at the lowest level.”

Although watching the videos helped Chisholm adjust to the software, she said teaching her Fundamentals of Acting class over Zoom is still difficult because of the collaborative nature of the class. 

“(Acting) is humans getting in a room together to create and tell a story,” Chisholm said. “It is not us imparting information to students (that) can be done in a lecture setting.”

Neurology professor Steven Kornguth has been teaching for 62 years and began teaching at UT in 1998. He said he did not have any training for Zoom but receives technological help from Karen French, the associate director of the Office of Instructional Innovation in the College of Education. French also helps coordinate and provide training to other professors within the college.

“She has been absolutely spectacular,” Kornguth said. “(She) is committing at least five hours to help me just set up from the Canvas to the Zoom.”

Terry said her professor is also receiving help from his colleague Joann Gulizio, who volunteered to set up and run the Canvas page as well as help her professor post his lecture notes. 

“(He is) definitely a very old-school professor, so that transition was difficult to say the least,” Terry said. 

Despite the various resources provided by colleges and coworkers, some professors have still experienced technical difficulties using Zoom. 

Chisholm said she felt prepared to operate Zoom from her colleague’s training videos, but she did something wrong and it did not work on the first day of class. 

“It was a total fail,” Chisholm said. “I finally threw in the towel after half an hour when I literally couldn't get it to work. I just felt like I really let my students down that day.”

Chisholm said she has now figured out how to use the platform after revisiting the training videos.

While the assistance from his department has helped, Kornguth said the greatest challenge of teaching online is living alone during self-isolation and the absence of personal interaction with his students. One of the bright spots, Kornguth said, is the calls he receives from former students. 

“It's learning how to adapt to the crisis you find yourself in and that's the essence of life,” Kornguth said. “It doesn't go away at the age of 18 or when you're 84 years old.”