This semester has been anything but ordinary for both returning and incoming students at Boise State. It has also been a significant adjustment for professors and faculty alike who made the transition back into the classroom, if they chose to do so.
Professors welcomed back their students both in person and online via Zoom this fall 2021 semester, which contributed to a large shift in the learning environments.
American Sign Language (ASL) adjunct instructor Kristi Dorris expressed many positive feelings towards being able to teach in person again.
As a member of the deaf community, Dorris faced many challenges teaching over Zoom when the university moved to an online learning environment last year. Now, Dorris, along with many other professors, have been given the opportunity to teach in person once again.
“I do prefer teaching face-to-face because I feel connected with the students versus teaching an online class because American Sign Language is a visual language,” Dorris said. “It’s just better to be visual and face-to-face with the students because it’s a lot of body language and facial expressions.”
According to Dorris, during the fall 2020 semester, students had felt more comfortable in a Zoom learning environment because of the freedom they were permitted when attending class, but that wasn’t always beneficial for professors. Since then, she’s seen a change in attitude among students.
“There was a major difference and Zoom was really hard for the students,” Dorris said. “It was really hard because in American Sign Language you don’t use your voice so there’s no sound. It’s really demanding for them to focus because you’re on Zoom, compared to in person where you can interact and you can move around.”
With a course that teaches American Sign Language, there are many factors that contribute to running a successful class. For Dorris and her students, the introduction of clear masks completely changed the dynamics of the in-person classes this semester.
“One challenge with the fall of 2020 was that there were no clear masks so it was very difficult to try and learn a visual language with a [cloth] mask,” Dorris said. “With the spring semester, they provided a clear mask and that was very helpful.”
Assistant professor of drawing and painting, Astri Snodgrass, teaches visual art in person at Boise State and has expressed the benefits of returning to a face-to-face classroom.
However, before the return to in person classes, the online environment this past year challenged Snodgrass and her students greatly.
“It was extremely difficult because you just had to reimagine entirely how you teach,” Snodgrass said. “I wasn’t able to be in the studio with the students and see things such as how they set up their palette or how they’re applying paint to the surface of the canvas.”
Even the smallest details went unnoticed on Zoom, which inhibited both the students’ learning experience and the professor’s curriculum. According to Snodgrass, a majority of the curriculum, when teaching online, shifted from making physical art to discussing the concepts of art as a whole.
“Now that we’re back in person, I think that students and faculty alike are all just so much more appreciative to be in the studio because a studio discipline really does not translate to online very well at all,” Snodgrass said.
Similar to what Dorris explained about learning a visual language, Snodgrass’ courses exhibit a similar visual aspect but in an art form. Being in person again, Snodgrass has found ways to showcase her student’s work for grades while simultaneously including a majority of the students to critique and leave feedback on each other’s submissions.
“Even though we’re all in person in the studio, students are submitting images of their finished work,” Snodgrass said. “So in a normal semester, we would have all their work up on the wall and then we would move through the room and talk about piece by piece, student by student’s work. Then we’ll look up at the screen while everyone’s at their respective spaces throughout the classroom.”
For both Dorris and Snodgrass, their students who partake in these visual learning styles seem to thrive in an in-person environment rather than being confined to a screen.
“It depends on the student and their learning ability, their learning styles and if there are good online classes or not,” Dorris said. “So it varies from individuals and I’ve seen some be successful at online classes and for some, you know, it’s just not their thing.”
For associate professor Dr. Kelly Rosetto, who teaches interpersonal communication, her situation differed in comparison to Dorris’ and Snodgrass’ courses. She chose to teach her class using Zoom.
“I conducted the course synchronously, so I was still able to see my students each week,” Rosetto wrote in an email. “I also assigned students to small groups, with whom they met throughout the semester so that they would have the opportunity to meet each other and engage in more discussion.”
Zoom seemed to be the easier option for Rosetto and her students this semester. Canvas worked for her students and kept the class organized.
The last time she taught this specific interpersonal communication class, it was in person but Rosetto has taught courses on Zoom in the past.
“For me, teaching online makes it more difficult to get to know students individually (especially with videos turned off),” Rosetto wrote. “It can also be more difficult for students to make friends, which is important to creating a sense of belonging.”