Bakersfield College professors discuss the transition to online learning, how they plan to help students

June 26, 2020 /

As Bakersfield College continues with both online and in-person classes this Fall, students are wondering what to expect when attending college during a pandemic. 

Ericka De La Cruz, an incoming freshman who will attend Bakersfield College, said she feels lost when registering for classes and has become anxious to begin her college career online. 

She is not the only student that feels this way, as COVID-19 has forced students worldwide to transition into an online learning setting and have new obstacles to overcome. 

To help students better transition, Kern Sol News reached out to Bakersfield College professors, who offer a glimpse of what changes students can expect in their class.

This story has been edited for length and clarity.

Tom Greenwood

Having a strong personal connection with my students is very important to me.  When I was teaching in the classroom, I made sure that my teaching was interactive.  I would ask questions, encourage discussions, have students work on problems in class, and help answer questions after class and during office hours.

Once the college closed, and I went online, I decided to have my lectures on video, so that students could watch them, e-mail me with questions, and occasionally meet on Zoom.  What I found out was that I lost that personal connection with my students.  When I did meet on Zoom, students responded positively to the experience because they could interact with me and with each other.  I also had live office hours on Zoom and the experience for the students was very positive.  I have become more flexible and have worked with students due to issues that are beyond their control, such as an unreliable internet connection and technological issues.

My plan for the fall semester is to have all my classes and office hours live on Zoom.  I want to make the online class as close as possible to a face-to-face classroom experience.  Students need to have that constant feedback and interaction with their professor.  If there is a topic that appears unclear in class, the students can ask me in real time to clarify the topic.  The problem with video lecture is that the students could not do that.  It is very important for me to develop that connection and rapport very early in the semester so that I can help students in making a connection, learning the material, and being successful in my class.

— Tom Greenwood, Mathematics Department

Dana Heins-Gelder

Realizing the opportunities that online education creates for people who might otherwise find college difficult to achieve, I already take online education very seriously.  The steps I will take to ensure the success of students in light of COVID-19 largely align with those I have previously endeavored to achieve.

But, COVID-19 has changed our world for the time being, and there are a few changes I have already incorporated and will expand upon in the Fall.  COVID-19 has generated a level of economic, health-related, and general anxiety for most of us – I have seen this first hand from many of my students who worry about the health of loved ones, job insecurity, and the future in general.  With that in mind, I am working on the following:

  • Create new and relevant opportunities for students. My colleagues and I are anticipating that because of COVID-19, more students will be interested in careers in Public Health of which Medical Anthropology is a part.  We have just proposed a new course to the college on Culture, Health and Illness, which will prepare students for a career in Medical Anthropology.
  • Create online resources which allow greater student-to-student and student-to-professor communication and interaction about immediate and relevant topics.  For example, given that we all benefit from each others stories and experiences, opportunities for students to anonymously share or simply voice “where they’re at” with regard to COVID-19 or the transition to online schooling will be invaluable.
  • Integrate COVID-19 into our topics and discussions.  I started this last semester in my Cultural Anthropology classes when students explored how COVID-19 unequally impacts different groups based upon social class, ethnicity, gender, age, and other social structures.
  • Many students will be new to online education, which can be more intense that face-to-face classes, finding ways to be more flexible about things like due dates will ease anxiety (but don’t spread that around).
  • Continue to integrate fun or innovative computer technologies like 1SecondEveryDay, Flipgrid, or Interactive Quizzes into my courses but to also be sensitive to those that are uncomfortable with technology.
  • It’s more important than ever to make sure students connect with the services they need to succeed. 
  • Listen.

— Dana Heins-Gelder, Behavioral Sciences Department , Anthropology.

Ryan Rivas

It goes without saying that we all experienced something rather extraordinary in education. As an educator, you always learn to adapt to the various aspects of your job. I always tell my students to “work with what they have” in an effort to encourage resourcefulness and resiliency. But even in this situation, it seemed like it was easier said than done. 

I’m simplifying my course. I’m not talking about making it easier as much as I’m looking to make it more accessible to my students. That means making changes to how they navigate Canvas (including guides and tutorials on how to use Canvas and other software). It also means structuring Zoom sessions so they are not so lecture heavy and include more student-centered activity. I am even considering changing the method of my grading to make it more equitable.

Ultimately, in public speaking courses, knowing your stuff only takes you so far; it’s vital that my class is set up to focus on skill development. In order for students to focus on course material and learning, they have to be engaged. In other words, students have to feel invested in what they’re doing and find its importance. If there is no incentive beyond getting the grade and passing the class, you just have students going through the motions (trust me – I was there once too). This makes it important for me to find ways to continue to build a community within my classroom. In the online setting, I am looking to encourage the use of chat apps and group engagement (not group work). I also want to encourage students to engage with the BC community as a whole.

— Ryan Rivas, Communication Department

Elizabeth Rodacker

Not everything can be accomplished online.  A high percentage of Bakersfield College students prefer face to face classes, but now, because of COVID-19, the majority of Bakersfield College classes are online.  Indeed, ensuring success is the goal of any fine educator.  As we become knowledgeable about Kern County demographics and statistics, however, we are aware that although student success is achievable–because BC students are indeed as bright as students anywhere–some barriers exist.

Many students like technology and social media.  However, online classes require much  more than a like for technology and social media.  Bakersfield College’s online course platform is complex and requires focus, persistence and time. Online learning is complex, slow, not always fun, and comes with snags, plenty of them. Who do we turn to when snags occur?  Students are learning often at home, isolated, and may feel overwhelmed.  Additionally, where to go for help isn’t always clear.  Online courses are 24/7; technology assistance is not.

What can educators do?  We can do our best.  We can encourage students to finish their courses and not give up.  We can do whatever it takes to reach out to students and help motivate students to continue their education.  We can ask students what they need and be advocates for them.  We can point students to BC’s resources.  We can request equity for BC students.  in short, we can do whatever it takes to help our students.  Fine educators do no less.

— Elizabeth Rodacker, EMLS Department (English for Multilingual Speakers)