Responding to COVID-19, UH faculty gear up for online classes, hold first workshops to discuss challenges

The newly established working group is identifying additional resources and best practices on how to teach students remotely during the COVID-19 health crisis. 

Laptop with member of faculty attending mtg via video conference.
Faculty, administrators meet via video conference to discuss concerns during workshop. Courtesy photo UH System News.

The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA), and a UH working group consisting of faculty, administrators, and executive leadership, met for the first time Tuesday, March 17, to discuss challenges facing faculty as they prepare to transition to online learning. The decision to make the switch was made last week in response to the COVID-19 health crisis, and today it was announced the change to online classes will be for the remainder of the semester.

Tuesday’s meeting was conducted via conference call to adhere to social distancing advisories. The group will continue to meet virtually each day for the next week.

“Flexibility is key during these times. We want to ensure that high-quality education is being delivered by the faculty and working with the administration is the only way we see as a path to ensuring that takes place,” says UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern.

The newly established group is identifying additional resources and best practices on how to teach students remotely along with addressing other concerns by UH faculty. Resources for faculty include tools such as video recordings and web formats, training classes geared around the delivery of class material and references to approaches by faculty at other institutions.

Seri Luangphinith, professor of English at UH Hilo, is a part of the online learning panel.

Seri Luangphinith
Seri Luangphinith

“I think that the Khan Academy, edX, and Coursera are interesting places to start,” she opines about teaching platforms. “These free, online venues have tried to, though are not always successful in, keep students engaged in very difficult subjects. Scrutinizing lessons for what works and what doesn’t work is a good way to get started in avoiding common errors.”

Luangphinith also recommends using YouTube. “Pay close attention to comments,” she recommends. “Oftentimes, the reviews add an interesting element. Students can also be asked to critique those conversations as well.”

Further, if professors want to connect visually with students, she notes, “there are tons of free Wi-Fi apps that allow free video calling. Apart from Facebook messenger and WhatsApp, the East Asian ones such as Line (Japan) and Kakao Talk (South Korea) can help you connect without sharing phone numbers. Viber is also great, and iPhone to iPhone via Wi-Fi is also free if you use FaceTime.”

Another technique, she says, is to have students revamp existing online lessons and activities. “As students, how would they make the learning of materials easier, better, more engaging? There’s nothing that enhances the learning of materials more than if one [student] suddenly becomes the TEACHER and has to facilitate the learning of the content,” Luangphinith shares in an email.

Don Straney, UH vice president for academic planning and policy, says,“The expertise of the faculty in teaching, not in lecturing, not in writing exams but in getting information into other peoples heads is what’s going to see us through this. They are pros. They’re good at it and faculty will find a way.” Straney previously served as chancellor of UH Hilo.


Moanike‘ala Nabarro, spokesperson for the UH System, and Susan Enright, public information specialist at UH Hilo, contributed to this story.

UH, UHPA online learning working group holds first meeting