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Creative adaptation necessary in online classes


Professors and students (top row) Ellie Friedman, Jacob Bricca, Dirk Bernhardt, Tessa L. Dysart, (bottom row) Sharon Hom, Giorgia Menetre, Alexa Kingman and (not pictured) Autumn Eckman share their stories from the last year of classes during the pandemic. There were many obstacles to overcome, some shared and some unique to different people and programs. (Photos courtesy of each person).

Taking classes during the pandemic has not been easy, but we have gotten through it.  For the year in review edition of the Daily Wildcat, the enterprise desk presents eight stories out of the many lived this year that show the variety of experiences people had in online and COVID-19 precautioned classes. In our print edition there are four out of eight stories — with the rest posted online — from a student and a professor each in four University of Arizona colleges/schools: the College of Nursing, the School of Dance and the School of Theatre, Film and Television from the College of Fine Arts and the James E. Rogers College of Law.

Nursing Student

By Capri Fain

When the pandemic hit the University of Arizona in the spring of 2020, nursing student Alexa Kingman’s labs were substituted with videos, and her professor shrunk to the corner of her computer screen. She was in her last semester of prerequisite classes before starting the bachelor’s of science in the nursing program in the fall and began the program fully online.

During that first semester, Kingman said there were “definitely a lot of uncertainties, a lot of letting assignments go — just like, not even doing them anymore.”

As Kingman began the nursing program in the summer of 2020, she knew she was going to miss a critical social component. She said that nursing students go through their studies with a cohort of around 50 other students, so there’s a potential to build friendships.  

“I remember … being really excited like, I’m going to meet so many people in nursing and like get really close with them in these next few years, and then that just kind of went away,” Kingman said.  

Kingman’s cohort had a GroupMe chat and a get-to-know-you Zoom, but she said it was just not the same as being in classes together.  

As for the classes, Kingman said that the testing has been one of the hardest parts. During the fall, she learned how to insert a Foley catheter from nothing but videos, had one in-person practice day and then took a test on it with the threat of automatic fail for certain mistakes. 

Kingman said that nursing students have theory classes and clinicals, which have a lab and a hospital component. The in-hospital part of clinicals was replaced with class Zoom meetings last fall, but this spring it was reintroduced.  

“During my labor and delivery rotation, I went in [to the hospital] three days out of the eight possible days just because they can only have so many students at a time. You know, I think ideally you would have been there all eight days … but some people only got two,” Kingman said.

For Kingman, the biggest impact of reduced clinical time is missing interaction with patients.  

“I think nurses, you know, are like the main patient communicator in the healthcare field, and the way that we kind of practice is like, the instructor will pretend to be the patient and that’s just kind of funny to get through. And it’s just hard, but we’re getting through it,” Kingman said.

Overall, Kingman said there are positives and negatives to online school. It’s nice to get to class without a commute, but not being in person can test her focus.  

“I feel like I have to do a little bit more work to kind of learn that stuff that we learned in lecture,” Kingman said. “I just have to like, really go back and rewatch Panoptos or go through the book a little bit more than I would have in person.”

Next semester, the College of Nursing is moving back in-person with the rest of the university, though things might look a little different than before the pandemic. Kingman said she is excited for the transition, but she still got a lot out of the last year.

“I learned more in this last semester than I did in my first two years,” Kingman said. “[Our professors] still make us really excited to be nurses and to be passionate about the field — especially going to nursing school in a pandemic. We’re really seeing like, how needed we are.”

Nursing Professor

By Capri Fain

At the end of classes last fall, clinical assistant professor Sharon Hom watched as many of her 80+ students raised handwritten thank you cards in their Zoom windows. They were too small on the screen for her to read, but Hom said she realized in that moment that she had connected with her students, even during the pandemic. 

“All last semester I had not even had the opportunity to meet them in person; it’s all been on a screen,” Hom said. “So to know that, you know, they feel enough to go through the trouble to let you know that they appreciate the experience and what you’ve given them is really moving. And so I think that sort of, for me, just makes this job worth it. I still feel like, kind of emotional about it.”

Online classes have changed Hom’s favorite part of teaching her pathophysiology class: interacting with students. Faced with dozens of Zoom boxes every day, she had to find another way to reach the people behind them.  

“I think the lack of connection is probably where isolation begins, and I think, as faculty, what I recognized over the course of the last year was how important it was for me to check in with my students, to actually ask them, ‘how are you doing, how are you feeling, is there anything I can do to help,’” Hom said.

Hom would meet with students if they were struggling with mental and physical health as well as academics. She said it really helped to support them and connect them with resources.

Another way to keep students connected was providing routine and predictable communication, Hom said. It gave them much needed consistency when everything else was in flux. While she went through a lot with her lecture-based course, Hom praised her colleagues teaching clinical classes that depend on hands-on instruction for their innovation with even tougher challenges.  

“To do a more invasive technique like … how to insert a catheter, how to start an IV — those are things that are, you know, a little bit difficult to master unless you actually do them, and you can’t always recreate something like that in a teddy bear,” Hom said, noting that some students did practice on teddy bears.  

Hom said she looks forward to classes going back in person, including her own, which will be a flex in-person course. Though the pandemic has been hard, she said that it has taught us many lessons.  

Nursing students are getting a different perspective on healthcare now, Hom said, as she thinks we are really seeing how fragile and important life is.  

Hom said that students graduating now will have had to grow much more and much faster than those before them.  

“I feel like I’m a much more insightful, more flexible educator than I was before this,” Hom said.  “I’ve had to rise to a different level, and that has really been a very positive thing, I feel, for myself.”

RELATED: Reflecting on the news of the past year

Dance Student

By Elle Nangia

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, dance students at the University of Arizona have turned a social art form into a socially distanced learning experience. 

“In the beginning, [class] looked like us setting up our computers and using the back of a chair or kitchen countertop and taking a ballet class in our houses,” said Giorgia Menetre, a dance major with a specialization in ballet.

The school of dance has followed all of the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The dancers started the year with a two week quarantine period along with COVID-19 testing every Monday. 

“We are dancing in 12-by-12 squares with masks on, and we have awesome facility people come in and clean in between each class,” Menetre explained. 

The type of space the dancers can use and interactions with their peers have changed. Dance is a hands-on course, whether it be a professor’s corrections or partnered dancing.

Having dance class online has led to new forms of participation. As the students danced through their homes, “You got to meet their dogs on Zoom, and their parents would run through the back and do a little ballet,” Menetre said.

“We have forgotten what it used to be like … to dance without a care in the world,” Mentere said. 

Menetre explained that the program is able to effectively teach their students, but she believes the dancers are not progressing as artists due to the lack of spatial freedom. She said she feels the professors have remained optimistic and praiseworthy of their students as they persevere through the pandemic. 

Dance Professor

By Elle Nangia

Dance professor Autumn Eckman has utilized the pandemic as a learning experience to review her teaching at the University of Arizona’s School of Dance.

“I can go back and download the file and recall exercises to see what works and what doesn’t,” Eckman said. 

Eckman is a professor in the triple-track dance program with equal emphasis on ballet, modern and jazz dance. 

In light of social distancing, professors have limited their contact with students. Eckman said professors need improved verbal skills to correct and advance their students’ dancing. 

The university has provided new resources such as additional TV monitors, computers, headsets and cleaning supplies so that professors can safely teach their students. 

“I would have a headset. I would have a class behind me, and then we would also have the Zoom link open to another studio where other students are spread out all simultaneously,” Eckman said.

The efficiency and effectiveness of the program through the pandemic has continued to grow through trial and error. Eckman said she is “focusing on more pinpointed things and not such a broad spectrum but actually taking the time to hone into some specifics.”

Dancing within limited space and without physical connection has kept the teachers and students happily occupied and progressing as they dodge the hurdles of the pandemic. 

“I know we all sort of feel it in our hearts and souls that we can’t wait for that moment for physical connection again, and I know we cannot wait to be in front of a live audience again,” Eckman said.

RELATED: What have we learned about the coronavirus in the past 15 months?

Film Student

By Vic Verbalaitis

Movies have been a great way for people to unwind and destress during the pandemic, but many people don’t stop to think about all of the hard work that goes into the filmmaking process. Students like Ellie Friedman, a junior in the School of Theatre, Film and Television, are always thinking about it.

“I’m in the B.A., so I don’t make my own films, but I help out on other people’s films. So a lot of people had to readjust their projects and scale back. And in terms of like, internships and everything in the film scene, obviously Hollywood isn’t even up and running right now, so it’s kind of bleak to be learning about the fact that after college you might not be able to have a job right away because nothing is open,” Friedman said.

The online modality takes away some of the hands-on aspect of the typical film and television program in exchange for a much more individual and historically focused approach, Friedman said. However, Friedman said that some of her professors have taken these drastic changes in stride and made immense efforts to keep the learning experience productive and engaging.

“Professor [Bradley] Schauer did a really good job of taking what was supposed to be a three day in-person class and converting it to online, so instead of just having like, three one-hour spots online, he would do recorded lectures, which I think would help. I think the professors are trying their best, but yeah it’s been hard,” Friedman said.

Friedman notes that going online has impacted students in various programs in different ways, stating that STEM and film majors might have a harder time adjusting than other college areas of study, due to their in-person focus and hands-on learning. 

Friedman added that class attendance has suffered in response to the pandemic. A lack of motivation and other responsibilities have caused students to show up to class less than before, she said.

In spite of all of this, Friedman said she remains confident that she is on the right track for her career, and noted the utmost importance of maintaining your mental health in the midst of the public health crisis that is the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I would say to prioritize yourself and your mental well-being because I know that sitting at your computer screen in your room alone for like hours is a really awful thing,” Friedman said, “and for like attendance, if you really can’t go to a class one day because you just can’t, and you don’t have the mental capacity, I think just being kind to yourself about that is really important.”

Film Professor

By Vic Verbalaitis

Theatre, film and television professor Jacob Bricca has worked at the University of Arizona for eight years, teaching everything from documentary production to editing fundamentals. However he, like many other professors here at the university, has faced many challenges in overcoming the obstacles set in place by COVID-19. 

The typical film student engages in various creative projects, whether it be working on film sets, studying past films or exploring the ins and outs of the film industry. Bricca noted that the new COVID-19 protocols have created challenges for students trying to complete their projects or gain real world experience in their field.

“The most challenging thing was probably dealing with these shutdowns. It was just hard knowing how much work went into these films. They are shot over three or four day periods, and there have been months of work just leading to that,” Bricca said. “Every hour is precious and suddenly you’ve just lost an entire day, and you’re gonna somehow have to get all of these people back together with all of the elements and so just dealing with the emotional realities of that as part of the students’ experience was something that I just tried to be as supportive as I could.”

As a film professor, Bricca has had to make distinct changes to his curriculum in order to accommodate the changing circumstances implemented as a result of the pandemic. He noted that he has had to alter his teaching style during lectures in order to keep students more engaged in class.

“I’ve been trying to be more energetic because I feel like maybe 40% of the energy that your brain has just gets sucked into the screen … and I have just done much more preparation with PowerPoint presentations, you know, I have to sort of give up some of the improvisatory nature of those lectures,” Bricca said. “But the result is arguably better because I’ve actually had to really sift through my thoughts and figure out what’s the most important thing to get across and then what order that ought to happen, so that’s been another result, having much more detailed, streamlined lectures and discussions.”

Despite the challenges and complications from the pandemic, Bricca remains optimistic about his students and their progress in becoming successful in their film careers. He said he is confident in the skills they’ve learned and is excited to see what they do next.

Bricca said, “I’m very proud of a lot of what our students have accomplished this year. The result was still far superior to just not doing anything at all, and we never really did have to fully pull the plug on anything. We always found a way to get it done.”

RELATED: Feeling anxious about graduating? You’re not alone.

Law Student

By Grant Hoover

For Dirk Bernhardt, a first-year J.D. graduate student at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law, the transition from undergraduate to graduate has been an unusual one. 

Bernhardt, 23, graduated from the university with a B.S. in mechanical engineering in the spring of 2020, just as COVID-19 was beginning to seriously wreak havoc across the globe.

Due to the subsequent lockdowns that were put in place nationwide to slow the spread of the virus, Bernhardt was not able to have a normal graduation experience. 

“I didn’t have a graduation ceremony or anything,” Bernhardt remarked. “It was like going out with a whimper.”

Originally from the Philadelphia area, Bernhardt came to the UA in the fall of 2016 after having spent a few years attending high school in Scottsdale, Ariz. Upon entering the university, he said he had what could be described as the standard college experience up until COVID-19 began to shut things down.

By the time Bernhardt entered law school, instructors had fully established remote learning. To this day, he has still not had an in-person law class.

Due to the lack of in-person instruction, Bernhardt said he feels like he has missed out on some aspects of the law school experience, like professors randomly calling on students during class to make sure they are up-to-date on the readings. According to Bernhardt, the students he has talked to who have had in-person classes say it adds a certain intensity that just isn’t there during online classes.

Another aspect Bernhardt said he feels he has missed out on is having his initial exposure to his classmates be in person instead of over Zoom. One thing he has noticed is that the online personalities of their classmates are different from how they are in real life. 

“Some people, their personalities carry over,” Bernhardt said. “But there’s a lot of people where you’re like, ‘wow, your personality is so different.’ It’s strange.”

Due to what Bernhardt described as the tight-knit nature of the law school, he actually gets a decent amount of face-to-face interaction with his classmates. In addition to study sessions, he has been able to meet fellow law students through social activities like hikes and restaurant outings. 

Apart from extracurricular events with classmates, Bernhardt has also attended online events hosted by the law school. One of these was a talk by Vox founder Ezra Klein, who discussed political polarization within the American political system.

In terms of classwork, Bernhardt said he feels that COVID-19 has generally made things a bit easier for him personally. 

“I think I’m better at learning on my own,” Bernhardt noted. “But overall I think the law school didn’t learn as much.”

Law Professor

By Grant Hoover

Like many at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law, professor Tessa L. Dysart found herself caught in a whirlwind as COVID-19 forced her and other faculty to make serious changes to the way they teach. 

According to Dysart, who also serves as the assistant director of legal writing at the college, legal education before the pandemic was almost never conducted online. This made adjusting to the pandemic particularly challenging for the law school.

Dysart taught an asynchronous master’s-level class online, but COVID-19 marked the first time she had ever done any deep level coursework over the computer. Many of her colleagues at the law school had never taught online at all.

“I would say most law schools and most law professors … were not well equipped to teach online before [COVID-19] hit,” Dysart said. “So I think it was a big adjustment for a lot of us to move to online teaching.”

Sitting in her home office flanked by her cat, Jag, Dysart reflected on some of the funny mishaps that occurred during the early days of lockdown. In one, her son, who at the time was two years old and had just learned how to open doors, walked into her office while she was helping to run an intramural competition for students at the law school.

Despite the difficulties of the lockdown, Dysart said the law school came together to make everyone’s transition as smooth as possible. With the help of a wide range of resources offered by both the law school and the university as a whole, students and faculty were able to mitigate a lot of the problems caused by COVID-19.

“One of the huge benefits we had at our law school is … a dedicated media team and a dedicated online course design team,” Dysart said. “I think it took significant pressure off of the faculty.”

In addition to teaching, Dysart edits the Appellate Advocacy Blog, and recently wrote there about how the legal profession and legal education field have adjusted to COVID-19. She is also a co-editor of an academic book due to be released in August that discusses how legal educators can effectively move their coursework into an online setting.  

One interesting development Dysart has observed is that the pandemic seems to have sped up an ongoing transition of legal work and education into the online sphere.

“I’m not glad for the pandemic,” Dysart said. “But I think it has pushed the legal field to where it should have been a decade ago in terms of embracing technology.”

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