Instructing face-to-face

The Academic Senate conducted a survey of faculty teaching preferences between June 8 and 11. Full results are available in the meeting minutes on the Academic Senate website. Graphic by Alesandra Bell | Mercury Staff

While many classes have switched to an online format this fall, some professors have chosen in-person modalities — such as hybrid and HyFlex — for the benefit of their students.

In a survey conducted by the Academic Senate in early June, 52% of faculty said they preferred an online delivery mode, 18% favored the hybrid modality and 23% favored in-person instruction. Factors that affected course delivery preference included student health, class size and the ability to social distance.

Visiting assistant professor Pedro Gonzales is teaching two fall 2020 classes in the hybrid format: humans rights & human security, and survey on Latin-American history. He said his students responded differently to the shift to virtual classes this past spring.

“Early in the pandemic phase of the spring semester when I was teaching online, I realized some of my students were not doing well in the transition to online. But in-person they were really good. On the other hand, I noticed that some of the students who were not so engaged in participation in-person were doing really good online, like posting a lot of comments and some did videos,” Gonzales said. “Having that in mind, I decided to go hybrid because I know that not all the students learn in the same way and some students will require me to be in the classroom while others can feel more comfortable speaking and working online. So I want to provide that spectrum of possibilities for everyone.”

Both Gonzales’ classes currently have about 18 students. In the hybrid mode, Gonzales said the class would meet once a week. However, the specifics of when and how has not been decided yet.

“I decided to do the hybrid format for my classes before this new wave of contagions in the DFW area. I have certain anxieties, but I know that we have a community at UTD and some students are counting on professors to be present at the school,” Gonzales said. “I work for the Ackerman Center and we have a strong community around us in terms of the students who follow us. I don’t want to let them down in that regard, so that’s why I chose to do the hybrid.”

Some changes Gonzales made to his course include decreasing the amount of reading and increasing online participation. He also changed certain materials that were not accessible at the McDermott library and provided PDF versions of those texts.

David Murchison, clinical professor of biology, is teaching three courses in-person this fall. His oral histology & embryology class currently has 36 students; his medical histology class, 30 students; and his collegium V honors seminar course,15 students.

“I try to integrate some of the clinical aspects of dentistry and medicine into my classes,” Murchison said. “In person, I use a very large blown up screen to show details of histology, the study of tissues, so the small details of those are what we’re looking at. So I find it easy to point to those.”

Social distancing in large lecture halls, mask requirements and self-monitoring for symptoms make face-to-face doable, Murchison said. His professional background in the military and dentistry influenced his perspective on teaching in person.

“I had a 33-year military career. I’ve dressed in chemical and biological warfare gear, I’ve worn gas masks for hours on end,” Murchison said. “And I’m a dentist so I’ve been wearing a mask since I graduated from dental school, so wearing a mask is not a problem for me.”

Ashley Barnes, assistant professor of literature, is teaching a close reading course, and graduate course on 19th century American literature in the HyFlex format. The former class has 18 students, while the latter has 13.

“I wanted to have at least the possibility for some in-person classroom live discussion that could be conducted in a way that is in line with public health guidelines,” Barnes said. “This seemed like a way to have, at least on a rotating basis, half of the students one week, half another week or a third rotating through at a time, to offer the option for getting that live in person experience.”

Paul Diehl, director of the center for teaching and learning, said the university purchased cameras that will be installed in classrooms where there will be any kind of face-to-face interaction. Additionally, the center created a mini training course to help professors transition to teaching online. It consists of eight to 10 modules covering various topics such as preparing prior to the start of the semester, dealing with the HyFlex model and converting class activities to a virtual format. Every instructor was given access to this course.

“For lectures, one of the things we recommend is that they be much shorter and chunked. If a class is an hour and 15 minutes and it’s primarily a lecture course, we tell people you don’t want to talk for 75 minutes and have students watch that all together,” Diehl said. “What you may do is break it down into manageable chunks where you have a short lecture, for example, in five or 10 minutes on a key concept or idea. Then you might ask them to do an exercise or certain kind of readings and then you would go to the next concept or idea that students need to learn.”

Another virtual teaching strategy deals with how to create exams for an online format. Instead of multiple choice, Diehl said faculty could design tests that have application questions, and students use the internet to find real world problems and apply them on the exam.

Barnes used a resource from this mini course to learn how to record and deliver lectures and conduct meetings via Microsoft Teams. Since she did not teach a course this past spring when classes went online, Barnes said it was helpful.

“I hope all of the students this fall find some way to feel a sense of investment and feel like they belong in the process of learning and that they find a way to get excited about learning regardless of how and where and exactly when they do that,” Barnes said.