Over to Online

UH Hilo instructors on navigating the sudden shift in course delivery

Editor-in-Chief Rosannah Gosser

Of the 618 courses offered at UH Hilo, all have now been instructed by the university to be conducted online in order to take preventative measures against the spread of COVID-19. Emailed by UH President David Lassner across the university on March 12, the announcement mandated that instructors do the best of their ability to utilize resources, like UH Hilo’s Distance Essentials for Remote Delivery, in order to grapple with the abrupt change to their professions.

“During this trying time, we encourage everyone, as much as possible, to deliver their courses with as much continuity as possible to the end of the semester,” the Distance Learning Team states on their website. The team, operating within the Division of Academic Affairs, offers tutorials, walkthroughs, references, resources, and live faculty support via Zoom during business hours.

Ke Kalahea reached out electronically to instructors around the university about the unprecedented decision to transition classes from the face-to-face format that they’d prepared them for to an entirely cloud-based system. The instructors cite some smooth sailing, but the switch has mostly brought challenges ranging from difficulties in grading content to conflicts with their personal lives.

Editor’s Note: Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Mark Panek , Professor of English

“Last summer I spent several 40-hour weeks building, in consultation with our amazing tech staff, online versions of two courses I regularly teach, and while those well-prepared courses worked out okay, they were no match, on so many levels, for the face-to-face versions of the same courses. We’re all doing the best we can under extraordinary circumstances to salvage a semester, but even with the workshops and the tech support offered during a spring break that many of us had planned to use to work on our publications, to view a sudden ‘switch’ from meticulously planned face-to-face classrooms to an ad-hoc online ‘class’ as anything other than an emergency temporary stop-gap solution would be a big mistake.”

Kathy Cooksey, Associate Professor of Astronomy

“I have had a personal challenge because my daycare is following the DOE in suspending operations (currently until April 30). So my spouse and I are having to manage our full-time jobs and full-time toddler care. I am grateful we have jobs (and, really, my statement could end there and be 100 percent true) that allow us flexibility so we are managing. I am just limited in how I can teach online.
The College of Natural and Health Sciences Dean has been very proactive in offers of help and procuring supplies like lender laptops and cameras. The university is doing what it can to safely support students on and off campus with, for example, the continued use of the library for internet access. I have received hardly any feedback about my chosen approach to online instruction. I’ve had a Laulima survey for students to provide anonymous feedback about how it's going, but currently only four of 18 students have participated. Students should be proactive about their education always, but now, students must be proactive. The feedback from my colleagues is that they are working to bring quality education in the online environment (when few of us have ever done it), but we have even less ability to cajole students for feedback when we're separated. My scientist brain thinks that this sudden move to all online courses is like crowd-sourcing the research into what are best practices for teaching online/remotely.”

Celeste Staton, dance instructor

“We are teaching dance classes using Zoom, continuing assignments, initiating weekly discussions, and transferring tests to Laulima. Students attend, but a couple are missing. They are engaged as it is movement and we watch them and give corrections. The limitations are that students have small spaces so some movements need a lot of modification. We are all still adapting but are happy to see each other.”

Su-Mi Lee , Associate Professor of Political Science

“[The process of transitioning online has been] challenging to say the least. Transitioning face-to-face courses online in the middle of the semester is not merely changing the way we deliver what we do in the classroom as an online course. It is a totally different game that requires a different set of course assignments and readings as well as a form of interaction between the instructor and students and between students.
I have been teaching one online course per semester for some time. I have attended a number of workshops on online teaching at UH Hilo and other places. Thus, I am very familiar with what tools and programs are available to me and how I could use them for my teaching. However, transitioning the courses in a way that I thought would work best requires a great deal of time. I usually build a course website on Laulima with a web page for each week that contains what to read and do in that week in addition to web pages for each course assignment.
The university provided excellent assistance throughout the process. The UH Hilo Remote Teaching and Learning Team offered a number of workshops that taught different tools and programs available for us to use and shared ways to make online courses better in general. I did not know that there was such a team on campus, but they did a great job with putting all helpful/useful workshops together at such short notice.
Students may not understand this transitioning process – why the lessons are now delivered this way, why the course assignments are submitted this way, etc. However, they must understand that we are not in an ideal situation. I think we all want our old way – having face-to-face classes in our classrooms (personally I really do miss that) – but we simply cannot. They would agree that public health and safety is our number one priority at the moment. So by transitioning classes online, we are trying to get through this pandemic without compromising our teaching/learning too much. Again, this is not the best scenario, but this is the best we can do at the moment.”