Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many WSU professors have adapted their courses to online learning. 

WSU estimates that fall courses are held 5% traditional, 63% remote and online, 3% hybrid and 29% individually arranged, according to the updated fall semester plan.

Victoria Meller, chair of the biological sciences department, said her faculty thought during the summer they would have in-person lab courses this fall. However, as the semester neared, they decided on virtual lab simulations to keep instructors and students safe. 

Taking precautions is necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic, Meller said. 

"I think that what you need to do to actually control it in a setting like a campus is so extreme and I think Wayne State has done well, but we just had a cluster on campus. And when you see something like this by testing, it means that those people have been infected for many days and they have had the capacity to spread to a large number of people."

College of Education professor Roland Coloma said he never taught a virtual course prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“When we transitioned in March, it was very rushed,” Coloma said. “I felt that with the pandemic, it wasn’t as thought through and as careful as I would like. But I understand needing to transition online for safety and caution for our faculty and students.” 

He felt much more prepared for the fall semester after taking advantage of workshops from the Office of Teaching and Learning, he said.  

Basma Bekdache, senior lecturer of finance, has taught online courses in the past, so she is used to the format, she said. The hardest part is making sure the students are engaged and understand the material. 

“I miss the face-to-face interactions and being able to look at them to see if they’re really getting what I’m saying,” she said. “You can’t have everyone on Zoom with the type of class I have where it’s more than 40 (students).” 

Coloma also said he misses creating an in-person community with his students.

"I miss seeing my students face-to-face in a seminar. So, you know, usually in face-to-face teaching you get the opportunity to see each other in one room. You can see the body language, you can see and break them up into smaller groups much more quickly and you can have more back and forth conversations with them right their in time."

As department chair, Meller said she has heard from professors who are struggling to communicate effectively with their students, even though most biology courses are synchronous. 

“If you have 200 people in a class, you can easily get hundreds and hundreds of emails a week,” she said. 

Students struggle with demands on their internet bandwidth as well, Coloma said. His students have internet connectivity issues during his virtual office hours due to other family members being online at the same time. 

Remote and online courses are separated into two categories, according to the Office of the Registrar. Online, or synchronous, classes require students to virtually attend class at a specific day and time, while remote, or asynchronous, classes do not. 

Remote courses provide flexibility for non-traditional students who work, Bekdache said. 

“Generally for fully online, I do asynchronous, and I know students like it better this way because they can pace themselves throughout the week,” she said. “And a lot of people are sharing technology at home, so it’s very hard for them to be there for three hours.” 

Coloma also chose asynchronous because it works better for his graduate-level students who are often working teachers, he said. 

Bekdache finds she has more time for office hours or pop-up meetings now that she is in front of her computer so much, she said. There is no major difference in the number of students who attend her virtual office hours versus previous in person office hours. 

To stay in touch, Bekdache’s students form groups on WhatsApp, she said. Engaging students through discussion boards, in addition to WhatsApp groups, have been helpful as well, Coloma said.

“For some students who might not be comfortable speaking in class get an opportunity to participate in meaningful ways through written work,” he said. “For those who are much more engaged in classrooms verbally, you give them an opportunity to pause and think.” 

Bekdache said she hopes the shift to virtual learning will help students become more comfortable with remote and online classes in the future. 

“I think that this will familiarize people with it, make them less intimidated, see that it can be the same—or as close as possible— and give them more choices in the future for completing their degree,” she said.   

Below is a map of all the colleges in Michigan with COVID-19 cases. 

Julia Paine is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at gq1749@wayne.edu

Photo by Basma Bekdache