BHSU faculty, students overcome challenges of online learning during COVID-19 pandemic

BHSU faculty, students overcome challenges of online learning during COVID-19 pandemic

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SPEARFISH | Faculty and students at Black Hills State University are using online classes, following the announcement that all South Dakota public universities will continue online teaching through the end of the spring semester due to COVID-19.

The adjustment has been challenging, but the connections among the BHSU community are helping students find a way forward.

“While our current situation is stressful, I think our faculty help to ground students and get them focused on moving their lives forward,” said Dr. Chris Crawford, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at BHSU. “I continue to be amazed at the way that our faculty have taken on the challenge of online delivery in ways that I could have never imagined.”

Both students and faculty members are enjoying the ease and high level of engagement they have found with video conferencing.

“I’ve been surprised by how much using Zoom has helped the online learning process. I like being able to see my professors and hear their explanations of various topics,” said Abbigail Baker, Spanish major from Rapid City.

Dan May, associate professor of mathematics, holds live Zoom video conferencing sessions during his classes’ regular meeting times. He also said these sessions have been more successful than he anticipated.

“I’m really impressed with how interactive students have been in these sessions – they are paying attention, asking a lot of questions and are trying their best in this difficult situation,” May said.

While technology is an essential asset in online learning, it takes the commitment and innovation of BHSU faculty to ensure a high-quality learning experience online.

“I can live-type mathematics in Microsoft Word Equation Editor pretty quickly, and sharing that with my students as we talk has been effective,” said May.

This semester one of May’s courses is Math 440, a calculus-based upper division course devoted to the study of the theory of interest. May says his class will spend a large portion of the rest of the semester working on the online Society of Actuaries (SOA) practice exam FM, a well-known test for actuaries and aspiring actuaries. While he has used the practice exam in a previous face-to-face class, May said the online format of his current course will allow for more time and focus with the practice exam.

May understands the reality that many students are feeling anxiety right now about the COVID-19 pandemic. He says his goal is to make a stable space for math learning to take place.

“As much as the math, okay, more than the math really, I think it’s been helpful for my classes to just virtually be with each other. We’ve been spending a fair amount of time discussing where we are, what the COVID-19 situation is like in our locations, and how we are all holding up,” said May. “I have at least one student who is worried people in his community aren’t taking the COVID-19 threat seriously enough, and that is hard to hear.”

Baker said she is making time to get outside for fresh air and sunshine, while practicing the social distancing recommendations. While she has taken online classes in the past, this is the first time Baker has a full online course load.

“I completed an online exam on Wednesday for one of my classes, and I’ve been working on completing a chemistry lab online as well,” said Baker. “Completion of these tasks definitely looks different online.”

Baker said Amy Asunskis, instructor of chemistry, in particular, has been helpful and responsive, posting instruction videos, hosting video office hours, and responding to emails.

The greatest challenge, said Baker, has been completing assignments and making sure to take breaks. Contrary to misnomers about online education being “easy,” Baker said she and her peers feel they have more work than usual to complete. She said spending more time at her computer can cause tiredness or headaches, and scheduling breaks has been helpful this week.

May says while many students have been responsive and engaging with the online courses, he looks forward to reaching more students who are not quite there yet.

“People are suffering, times are scary, and education looks differently this semester than we expected,” said May. “But, learning can still take place, and I’m happy to be carving out some space for that to happen. I look forward to figuring out how to bring more of my students into that place.”

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