When environmental sciences professor Linda Hooper-Bui dismissed her class on Thursday, she didn’t know it was the last time they would meet in person.
Later that afternoon, the University announced the switch to online course delivery due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and Bui was heartbroken to realize she would no longer see her students.
“They brought so much positive energy,” Bui said. “As an entire group, there’s not one single person who wasn’t outperforming every single expectation I had of them. They were a once-in-a-lifetime class.”
Art history instructor Carla White was looking forward to attending the graduations of students she has known since freshman year. She said it will be difficult to plan a program for studio arts and graphic arts that is simple and accessible, but she will miss her students more than the physical work done in the classroom.
“It’s going to be like playing an NBA game without a crowd,” White said. “I love sharing my passion for the subject, especially those ‘aha!’ moments.”
Many professors plan on using remote conferencing services like Zoom to recreate a personal environment. For assistant acting professor and head of undergraduate performance Sonya Cooke, Zoom allows her lively, collaborative classroom to transfer to a computer screen.
“Theatre is such an interactive learning experience,” Cooke said. “But I was pleasantly surprised by the capabilities of programs like Zoom. It’s not perfect, but we can absolutely run live, interactive acting classes with students.”
Cooke will use Zoom software to create scene study environments where other participants hide themselves, so two performing actors can look at each other while the other students anonymously view their work. Zoom’s breakout room feature also allows classmates to work in small pairs or small groups on exercises.
Theatre students are recommended to work in safe, private spaces where they can move freely, but Cooke recognized that may not be possible for everyone.
“Since students are leaving campus and likely going back to their homes, it can be difficult for them to secure the right learning environment to fully participate in an online class,” Cooke said.
History and women and gender studies assistant professor Catherine Jacquet is concerned Zoom is not prepared to withstand 1 million new users, so she plans to record voiceover PowerPoints, and host class discussions via Moodle.
But discussion boards, Jacquet said, are no substitute for real conversations. The majority of her courses involve in-depth group participation.
“Because my classes were built to be taken in-person and not online, this transition impacts literally almost everything about the classes,” Jacquet said. “I rely on interactions between the students and myself.”
Media and public affairs assistant professor Ruth Moon Mari shared Jacquet’s concerns regarding Zoom’s bandwidth. Through research in east Africa, she gained experience communicating over Skype and Zoom in different countries.
“I know it can be a total disaster and a lot of things can go wrong,” Mari said.
In an effort to solve the bandwidth dilemma and level the technology gap, Mari plans on producing shorter, downloadable content for students to watch on different devices at their convenience, rather than requiring them to participate in chats at specific times.
Mari said she was comfortable with technology, and felt two weeks was adequate time to prepare, although she will likely have to trim some course material.
“Faculty are working hard to make sure we’re giving students a good learning experience online. It’s just not going to be the same,” Mari said.
Testing presents a unique challenge, but Mari and Jacquet said they would likely adjust their regular testing format, and turn the final into an open-book exam or paper.
Bui said that in previous semesters, she imported online tests into a course management software to randomize questions, a process that takes about 8 to 10 hours. For this semester, she chose the less time-consuming option of open-book exams. She said she does not believe two weeks was an adequate amount of time for such an intensive transition, and hopes online learning does not become an overarching trend.
“I want to make this great, because I love these students,” Bui said. “But in another way, I don’t want to be great, because I don’t want the people who don’t know how much effort it takes to change your course to think it’s something that can be done in a week. I think what we’re being asked to do is very, very unrealistic.”
Bui is not teaching a graded lab or a field course this semester, but she does have graduate and undergraduate students who work in her research lab. She filed a request with the University to keep her research labs open, out of concern for students who may experience housing or food insecurity.
“My undergrads need work,” Bui said. “I want to provide them with a safe and reasonable opportunity if they choose to work.”
The LSU Division of Strategic Communications announced in a broadcast email that effective March 17, most faculty and staff will work remotely "for the foreseeable future." Strategic Communications recommends all students return home if they are able to do so.
"This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we recognize the burden this may place on some of you," Strategic Communications wrote in an email. "Academic and administrative staff will try to be as understanding as possible with any students who need additional support.
Bui’s request was approved Monday, and all of her undergraduate and graduate students will be permitted to continue lab work as necessary. She said she is still concerned for students with other on-campus jobs, such as the UREC employees, and hopes to see supportive messaging from University administrators addressing personal concerns of students, staff and faculty. In her classroom, expectations will be adjusted to accommodate for additional stress and distractions.
“We’re going to do the best we can,” Bui said. “Honestly, will it be good enough? No, but that’s what life has dealt us.”