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OU professors adjust to online teaching after COVID-19 suspends in-person classes

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Classes are being taught through Zoom, an online video conferencing platform, due to OU's decision to move classes online in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

OU began its first week of fully online classes on Monday after the March 18 announcement that the rest of the spring semester would be moved online due to the spread of COVID-19.

Many academic institutions had suspended all in-person classes in favor of an online approach, including the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma State University. The OU community announced its second confirmed case of the coronavirus last week, bringing Cleveland County’s number of cases to 11. 

Local and state government leaders are also taking action, with both Gov. Kevin Stitt and Norman Mayor Breea Clark announcing policies on Tuesday urging Oklahomans to remain at home to prevent further spread of the virus.

Charles Finocchiaro, an associate professor of political science, said the announcement OU would go online for the rest of the semester was sudden and unexpected.

“It was a pretty big shock,” Finocchiaro said.

With the abrupt changes, OU professors are searching for ways to stay connected with their students and provide adequate instruction. Professors are utilizing Zoom, an OU-sanctioned online program that allows them to facilitate online lectures and discussions. 

“We’re still figuring it out,” said Eric Abraham, associate professor of atomic, molecular and optical physics at OU. “We just had our first class Monday, which I set up as a review just to see how the system works.”

Abraham added that the shift to online-only classes is particularly impactful for courses like his, which have discussion and lab sections that encourage students to work together in person.

“And certainly, the hardest part is that we have a discussion once a week, where the whole idea is to bring these smaller groups together to work problems together,” Abraham said. “That's now tremendously hard, so we may not be doing that at the moment.”

For larger classes and classes that require hands-on work, the transition can cause issues even for instructors with previous experience teaching online.

“It’s been a pretty big change,” Finocchiaro said. “Although I have taught online in the past in regards to intro classes, it’s hard for a lot of people, and there are certainly a lot of challenges communicating with students.”

Christopher Sadler, an associate professor of stage and theater management, said he will be teaching smaller courses through synchronous Zoom meetings, similar to standard lectures and discussions. 

For larger courses, Sadler has shifted to teaching asynchronously using YouTube playlists, Powerpoint presentations and a free online subscription service which allows theater students to watch recorded performances.

The most difficult challenge to tackle has been how to teach creative courses which require students to be present in a stage environment to produce a performance, Sadler said.

“For my production-based classes — well, that's tricky, since we're not producing shows the rest of the semester,” Sadler said. “I have some ideas percolating, but I still need to mull them over.”

Although the sudden shift presents a sizable challenge, some professors have been encouraged by the insights gained through talking with their peers at OU and resources from the university itself.

“The process of teaching online for the first time seemed daunting,” Sadler said. “After talking with other professors and with the information provided by OU, I found it to be a surmountable challenge enabling me to use my artistic creativity in a new way.”

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