‘A little more normal,’ Professors brainstorm, making Zoom classes engaging

Last week marked a year of virtual classes and Baylor students and faculty are still navigating how to bring a sense of normalcy back to the virtual classroom. Christina Cannady | Photographer

By Jillian Veldey | Reporter

Last week marked one year since the first day of virtual classes due the pandemic. What was at first anticipated to be a two-week hiatus from on-campus activities turned into a year of online and learning at a distance.

Students and faculty have faced unique challenges while navigating how to best maintain a sense of normalcy during the pandemic. One major area of focus is the classroom—a term that once meant on campus, but has since expanded to include anywhere with Wi-Fi and a computer.

Houston freshman Nayiri Ohanian said even though most of her classes are in person, her online courses pose seemingly unsolvable problems.

“We basically have to teach ourselves more than half the material. It was not the teacher’s fault. He was very good, but under the circumstances, there was no more organized way to do it,” Ohanian said. “It was possible to stay on top of that required a lot of self-determination to teach yourself.”

Some students said their professors found creative ways to make Zoom classes feel as close to normal as an in-person class would.

Houston senior Sammy Pendergast said it was the little things one of his professors did before class that made all the difference.

“Giving time before class begins for people to talk about their day or weekends and what they’re looking forward to is my favorite thing my professors do,” Pendergast said. “It makes things feel a little more normal.”

Despite these small moments that leave a lasting impression on students, online learning still poses challenges even a year later. In a typical in-person classroom seeking help can be much easier for students due to the proximity of the professor, teaching assistants and fellow students.

El Paso junior Blake Assi said it has been challenging to adjust to online learning because he’s not used to online classes after 14 years of in-person schooling.

“I’d say the hardest part about online classes is actually understanding the material given,” Assi said. “When you’re in a classroom to me it seems much easier to understand and easier to ask questions.”

Professors have said they are aware of this issue and most have been trying to find solutions to combat the problems that virtual learning presents.

Tracey Jones, who teaches Spanish education and English as a second language, wrote an article highlighting various tips and tricks for other faculty to use to “warm up a cold virtual space.”

“Spanish and ESOL students were responsible for “show and tell” and daily “scavenger hunts” while on Zoom,” Jones said. “These activities brought life, laughs and community to the virtual classroom while students were challenged to process their living and studying spaces through a bi/multilingual lens. And, these activities were much more successful and varied in an online learning environment than they would be in person within the confines of a classroom.”

These interactive activities give students the means to connect despite not being in the same location.

Frisco sophomore Emma Kate Kettler said she enjoys that one her professors structures her class like an in-person lecture.

“One of my teachers recorded her video lectures in a classroom and does it exactly the same as she would have if students were there,” Kettler said. “She asks questions and still leave a pause for you to answer and gives time for you to write the notes. It’s way better for paying attention and actively watching than voiceovers with a PowerPoint.”