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Discovering Real Possibilities in Virtual Teaching

Posted on: September 25, 2020 in Campus & Community Stories by Academic Affairs

The traditional classroom abruptly transformed into a computer screen when the university shifted to online instruction amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, and the word “Zoom” became woven into our daily conversations.

Economics professor, Kristin Kleinjans, worried about losing that personal connection with her students, but it turns out that not even a virus can infect the strong bond between teacher and student.

“One advantage is that students seemed less rushed, albeit also for the wrong reasons since many had lost their jobs, and more open to engaging at a deeper level,” said Kleinjans. “In a strange way, I also think that one-on-one interactions on Zoom can almost be more personal than in person. Maybe it’s because it happens without the usual official trappings.”

When CSU Chancellor Tim White announced that the CSU system would move to a virtual setting this fall, Kleinjans knew she needed to make sure her students still received the best class experience possible.

She joined hundreds of other CSUF faculty members and spent the summer taking courses through the Faculty Development Center, focusing on the Canvas platform. Her instructor was says Kelly Ruppert, a CSUF Department of Geological Sciences lecturer and a 2020 FDC Workshop Facilitator.

“I really appreciated Kelly’s careful explanations and patience with my many questions,” Kleinjans said. “The course was super helpful and provided a lot of resources for what has to be almost every important aspect of virtual teaching and Canvas.”

“When you teach in the classroom, you are teaching in a bubble,” Ruppert said. “For that hour or two, the rest of the world exists beyond your classroom walls.”

But then the pandemic hit…the bubble burst.

Ruppert facilitated “Teaching Remotely” workshops for 35-40 new faculty every week for ten weeks. The teachers became the students, learning the way everyone else learns these days, virtually.

“I have learned how dedicated and caring our faculty are,” said Ruppert. “Many faculty members are going through their own struggles, including battles with cancer, yet they still are so worried about the CSUF students. I was also inspired by my spring semester geology students. I felt like my class didn’t miss a beat. “

Kleinjans says the pandemic opened possibilities in teaching that never crossed her mind.

 “There has been no other time when all faculty stepped back and thought deeply about how to adapt their courses to a new environment. This has led me to rethink how I teach in ‘normal times’ as well,” she said. “Many of the changes we are making now are here to stay, whether these are flipped classrooms, more interactive and engaging assignments, or less emphasis on exams.”

 For Ruppert, helping faculty transition to virtual teaching gave her the unexpected gift of friendship with Kleinjans and other fellow faculty members.

 “I feel like I made some genuine friendships,” says Kelly. “It’s beautiful to see that these connections can be made online. I much prefer being face-to-face, but the human connection still can be made.”

 For details on the courses offered at the Faculty Development Center, please visit fdc.fullerton.edu.

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