Students and faculty at Missouri S&T are back from spring break and back to meeting virtually after COVID-19 shut down classrooms on the Rolla campus and at the other University of Missouri System universities. The transition to online education has gone fairly smoothly, according to faculty and students.
“The first day was amazingly successful,” says Dr. Richard Wlezien, vice provost and dean of the College of Engineering and Computing at Missouri S&T. “Our faculty had 95% of their courses ready to teach online.”
That means that many professors had to become familiar with online instruction tools quickly. Dr. Greg Hilmas, chair of materials science and engineering, says that at least half of the department faculty, including himself, had never taught a course online.
“Learning to use Canvas, Panopto and Zoom within a matter of days was a major challenge that everyone was able to work through, and it’s going well,” he says. “Labs, of course, cannot be ‘hands-on’ using only online activities. So the faculty and graduate students are demonstrating the labs via video capture and then providing real data for the students to utilize as they write their lab reports.”
Dr. Daryl Beetner, chair of electrical and computer engineering, says department faculty members are sharing their expertise with each other.
“The faculty who have not taught online are able to lean on those who have experience in distance teaching for support,” Beetner says. “Also, Missouri S&T has created online resources available for all faculty to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for information about distance teaching, which also helps.”
Dr. Shun Saito, a physics professor in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business, is teaching his astrophysics classes on Zoom. Saito shares his handwritten notes using his iPad and shows PowerPoint slides using his laptop. Students ask questions only through the chat function, and Saito answers as he sees the questions.
“Everything works smoothly from my point of view, and a few students I asked seem to like the lecture,” Saito says.
Students had to get used to the new format as well. While most at S&T are tech-savvy, they have had to learn to use programs they may not have used in the past.
“Some of my classmates had never taken an online course before,” says Brandon Broughton, a senior who is hoping to graduate in August with a bachelor’s degree in English. “The professors were accommodating during the initial week while students got used to taking classes online.”
Broughton says there are benefits and challenges to online coursework.
“Online classes are more flexible and free up time for other things,” he says. “But I realized that traditional classes provide a structure that I’ve had to build for myself to keep up with assignments. It’s easy to take that structure for granted.”
Graduate student Michele White is studying electrical engineering. She agrees that online courses have some trade-offs.
“I miss the opportunity to ask my professor questions during a live class, because our lectures are recorded,” White says. “On the other hand, I can pause the lecture any time, so I never miss any information.”
For the first week of online courses, March 16-20, there were no penalties for missed connections, assignments, tests or quizzes. Students and faculty can get the latest updates and access to online resources through a website provided by S&T: keeplearning.mst.edu.
Some students and faculty members face the challenge of weak or no internet connectivity at their remote work and study locations. Missouri S&T’s information technology department is working to obtain equipment that can improve access to the internet for faculty and students. In addition, many internet service providers are offering low-cost internet plans and Wi-Fi hot spots in their communities for students. Missouri S&T is also providing laptops for some students to enable them to access virtual courses from remote locations.