Students, faculty push on despite online learning difficulties


The Shield

The university moved all classes online in response to COVID-19

Jody Henke was looking forward to no more online classes. 

Henke, a junior art major, doesn’t have internet access at her home in Washington, Indiana. She was able to access the internet after she moved back home thanks to a mobile hotspot provided by her photography job at Christian Camp Illiana.

USI moved all classes online for the remainder of the semester after COVID-19 related concerns caused campus and housing to shut down to encourage social distancing. 

Henke started a new photography series called “Through These Windows” while in quarantine. She takes photographs through windows from inside her house to convey the concept of everyone being stuck inside because of quarantine. She takes photos at sunrise and sunset.

“I kind of like this concept of everyone being stuck inside and I take advantage of that in a way with “Through These Windows,’” she said.

Henke said a lot of her courses have changed since moving online. She was supposed to work on different projects throughout the semester through her photography class, but she can’t do a lot of these projects now because she doesn’t have access to printing facilities. 

She said Robert Dickes, assistant professor of photography and digital imaging, told the class she was in to continue doing work even if they won’t finish it.

Henke said the university is reacting to the COVID-19 situation in the appropriate manner because of what the government has done.

“It may suck a lot to be stuck at home,” she said. “But I think this is a new way for people to take a load off.”

Henke said she was rushing all day between doing homework, going to the art studio, the library and eating when she was on campus and being home in a relaxing environment has helped with the rush of college.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily a great thing or a bad thing but I think it’s something we all kind of need at times,” Henke said.

Henke said she gets tired of sitting in the same place so she tries to balance her sit down work with her photos by moving around when she does her artwork and moving locations for a different view. She said it can be exhausting when you have multiple lectures or quizzes you need to sit down for, so she’s grateful to be an art major.

Henke worked at the print lab and the McCutchan Art Center/Pace Galleries when she was on campus. She is still getting paid since she’s a part of the Federal Work Study Program, but she knows other students don’t have the same opportunity.

“It’s just something that I’m super grateful for,” Henke said. “I’m glad that I had that opportunity to work on campus…if it wasn’t for that I would have zero jobs.”

Megan Reiner said the decision to move to online classes made her nervous because she was barely making it as is. The junior sociology major said she feels she works more than the average student with her three jobs. She said she can barely check the internet at her house because she works through the night and during the day.

“It just makes it more difficult because I’ve always taken my classes in person so I was forced, in a sense, to go to class,” Reiner said. “I’m all about getting my education and whatnot, but going to class was the one time I really got to learn. I don’t get to do much at home with my grades.”

Reiner said she normally misses online assignments because of her inability to check the internet and she initially wanted to drop out of her classes. She said her job at Frito Lay in Evansville put more hours on her schedule after campus closed and someone from the university had to contact her job to tell them classes were still in session.

Reiner said she’s going to take the time between her jobs to do homework and check on her classes. 

“I know that by choosing sociology, it’s really going to help me out with a future career,” she said. “Right now, my jobs are just temporary. But what my overall dream is I have to keep working for.”

Reiner said professors could help by setting up reminder emails or text messages so students know when assignments are due. 

“Something like that would for sure be helpful just because there are people like me, who aren’t like everyone else who aren’t as organized or have a plan or set out,” she said. “I have trouble keeping things organized…so something a little pop up thing like that would save the day.”

Trent Engbers, an associate professor of political science and public administration, said the move to online classes had affected him in a numbers of ways. This includes the reimagining of student and faculty interactions and the need to think about time in a different way. He said faculty needs to make sure students know they are available, even if they don’t meet on a regular basis.

Engbers currently teaches an undergraduate course in statistics and a graduate course in research methods and statistics, both previously taught in person. He taught online classes before and he has remotely shared tips and ideas with other faculty members to help them be successful and understand the technology. 

“Any time you take a face-to-face class into an online class there are things that have to change and being responsive to those and the challenges they present has been really important,” Engbers said.

He said professors need to be much more productive about communication. Engbers sent emails to students who were struggling and whom he would normally meet with in person. 

“I really have to be much more intentional about providing that outreach and making those connections,” he said.

Engbers has ZOOM meetings for all his classes and he said it works fairly smoothly. His classes require a particular software package to do the statistics and so there’s been a challenge in making sure all the students have the software. Engbers uses the ZOOM screen share to help them in the process.

He said he had to make adjustments to his teaching style by slowing the process down into distinct increments rather than how he would teach in an in-person environment.

Engbers said the biggest difference in online learning compared to in class is the ability to build relationships. He said since he met his current students in person, it helped him be successful in teaching them online.

Engbers wants his students to know that he’s still here. He gave them his personal cell phone number, but he knows a lot of students are hesitant to take advantage of that.

“My job is to help them be successful,” Engbers said. “And so I hope that if they are struggling and I haven’t realized that yet, they’ll reach out and let me know. And I am here to help them be successful.”

He said what makes this transition particularly challenging is that many students are currently struggling with things outside of school, whether it’s a change in employment or concern for the health of family members. 

“As faculty, we are called upon to help students in their learning and we are equally called upon to help students be successful in life,” Engbers said. “That often involved reconciling the academic demands with the life demands that a lot of our students are facing.”