Following Penn State’s decision to move all classes online for the remainder of the spring semester, professors and students alike were faced with the same problems. How would instruction methods change? Could certain classes still take place without the required face-to-face setting? Would students be able to adjust to this altered learning style?
However, some professors’ instruction styles prior to online learning, have prepared students for the switch. One particular method for many has been using social media to communicate with and engage students around the world. Doing so has been especially popular among professors in the Bellisario College of Communications — where social media is usually already embedded in curricula.
Award-winning instructor and director Steve Kraycik has always been an active social media user. As the instructor of Centre County Report (COMM 480), Kraycik emphasizes the use of social media to his students as a way for students to learn about remote reporting.
“I’ve always been interactive with students on social media before [the coronavirus],” Kraycik said. “Now the social media component has become even more important. The students in my Centre County Report class are posting often on the coronavirus situation from their homes as part of our class. And we’re all keeping in touch on social media, through Zoom, texts and emails.”
Kraycik has found that his students are most responsive on Twitter and Instagram, but he also uses Facebook and LinkedIn to connect with them. He also integrates social media use into his course by having his students post their stories on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Other professors also use Twitter to give their students an opportunity to share their work. Renea Nichols, who teaches Public Relations Campaigns (COMM 473) and Writing for the Media (COMM 230), uses special hashtags like #weare473 and #COMMents473 to help students showcase their work online.
However, with COMM 473 being a capstone class, virtual learning has proven to be a challenge. Without the ability to meet with clients in person, or even work in groups and have in-person conversations, Nichols and her students have been trying to find ways to overcome this challenge. However, they’ve found a few ways to connect with clients virtually through platforms like Zoom and surprisingly, TikTok.
“It’s been a challenge, but the students are rolling with it. They’re still meeting among themselves online, but it’s been a huge adjustment,” Nichols said.
Other professors have shared their challenges of virtual learning. Curt Chandler, who teaches Principles of Journalism (COMM 271), has encountered a few issues while trying to stream lectures to his students. However, with the help of other professors, he found a solution to streamline the learning process for his students.
“I show a lot of video in class, and video streamed on the same computer that is hosting the Zoom session tends to jitter and freeze for other viewers,” Chandler said. “I worked with professors Will Yurman and John Beale at the end of spring break to figure out how to best stream video.”
Now, Chandler uses two laptops to stream video to his students: one to host the Zoom conference and one to stream video. It’s not an ideal setup, but it appears to be the most effective way to virtually show video to students.
“I’d like to tell you the swivel process always goes smoothly, but sometimes it looks more like a skit from ‘Saturday Night Live,’” Chandler said.
Despite the challenges of online learning, professors have tried to accommodate to the situation and have a positive outlook. Shaheen Pasha, a journalism professor, uses Twitter to send her students words of wisdom.
Although she primarily uses Canvas to communicate with her students, Pasha has been more active on Twitter in this remote period.
“I’ve started using Twitter more to provide information and encouragement to my students rather than in my instruction. I want them to know that I’m here for them and I know it’s a tough time,” Pasha said. “I also let them see that I’m struggling in my own ways and that’s okay. We’re all in this together.”
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