Faculty and students prefer in-person learning, find online courses flexible
By Emily Rosenberg
In fall 2020, students showed up in pajamas and slippers to class via Zoom due to social distancing practices set in place for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some watched lectures, read textbooks, and completed exams on Blackboard Collaborate without ever meeting their professor.
Some eagerly awaited the day they could return to an in-person learning format, and some gauged the benefit of working and learning online.
The University held approximately 41% of its fall 2022 undergraduate day-division courses with an online component, according to statistics provided by Academic Affairs. The University conducted 702 classes, not including independent studies and internships.
There were 411 held entirely face to face.
Kristen Porter-Utley, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said she foresees the University continuing to offer courses in a variety of modalities based on what delivery is best for the course following feedback from fall 2022 course evaluations.
In fall 2022, 113 classes were classified as face-to-face (F2F) hybrid online asynchronous, meaning a portion of the class was taught in-person and the other half was class time when the students moved through online course material posted by instructor at their own pace.
There were 37 hybrid face-to-face remote synchronous courses. This is another hybrid option for which students meet at least once a week in a classroom as well as at least once a week remotely via an online video conferencing tool with an instructor.
Ninety-three courses were held in an online asynchronous format, for which there is no scheduled time or place for the course and students move through online course material posted by an instructor at their own pace.
There were 26 courses held in a Remote/Online asynchronous hybrid format. This modality includes a scheduled meeting time for students to meet with their instructor online via an online conferencing tool, as well as some time to work asynchronously.
Twenty-two courses were held in a remote synchronous format, for which there were online face-to-face meetings at scheduled times.
According to Registrar Mark Powers, full-time faculty are asked to teach at least two of their courses as either entirely face-to-face or hybrid with 50% of the class being face-to-face.
Porter-Utley said prior to the pandemic, people were more hesitant to work in an online format, but now the experience of working remotely during the COVID-19 lockdown has given people the realization that the technology and tools exist for online options that can help students “balance their obligations in life.”
Porter-Utley added another benefit of working in an online classroom is professors can more easily invite speakers to their classrooms from across the country due to the flexibility of using a digital conference tool.
She said on the other hand, online learning can also challenge people who are busy in their homelife and may become distracted by their environment.
She said a question she hopes chairs and deans are thinking about as they plan semester course offerings is, “How does the modality allow me to best deliver the material in a way that will be engaging and meaningful for students and help my students succeed?”
Porter-Utley added another point she hopes is considered during course scheduling is what modality best fits a professor’s pedagogy. “You can have really great pedagogy in an online classroom and students will be successful. You can have really bad pedagogy in an in-person classroom and students will not be successful,” she said.
Susan Dargan, dean of social and behavioral sciences and education, said she has noticed that since the pandemic, seats in classes in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Education offered asynchronously fill up more quickly than courses offered face-to-face.
She said when thinking about course scheduling, faculty and deans need to be mindful of how an online course has the potential to disengage first-year students from the campus.
Dargan added as students progress through their college career, their ability to do independent work improves and that determines their ability to succeed in an online course.
“I teach online and I see some students do really well. And then I see others just not be able to keep up with it if they don't come to the class because they don't have that accountability of being in the classroom,” she said.
She added while teaching online courses, she is seeing a higher percentage of students disengage and perform poorly in the course than when she taught courses face to face.
Dargan said that as she advised chairs through the most recent course scheduling process, she said she wanted to see “as many face-to-face options as possible.”
She said although courses with online components provide students and faculty with flexibility throughout their schedule, she “didn’t want to see people with a one-day schedule because that means they’re only going to be on campus one day and we’d really like to see people.”
Patricia Thomas, interim dean of the college of business, said that while advising department chairs about course scheduling, she recommends required courses that offer multiple sections such as Marketing Principles also offer differing modalities to provide flexibility for students as well as faculty. “I have some students who come into my office and say, ‘I want my classes face to face.’ Then, I have had another student come in and say, ’I can do some of this on my own, so I prefer an online option,’” she said.
She said chairs in the college of business did a “great job” offering a variety of course modalities.
Thomas added this benefits Framingham State because “we have a diverse range of students with different abilities, for example, and depending on a student's learning style, one option might fit better than another.”
She said faculty can also benefit from online teaching because from the feedback she has received, professors have more time for office hours and advising sessions, planning classes, and spending time on research.
Thomas added, “I think now leveraging technology, for the advantage of both faculty and students, is important.”
Bridgette Sheridan, a history professor and the interim faculty union president, said professors who were not familiar with teaching in an online format became “skilled at being able to transmit information in an entirely new way” during the pandemic.
She said she prefers face to face teaching because it builds community in the classroom.
Depending on the course material, Sheridan said online learning can make it possible for students to take courses while managing family and work responsibilities.
“But on the other hand, I sometimes worry that if we move to being more and more online, there'll be less of a sense of what it means to actually be part of a university, community, and a learning community together,” she said.
Sheridan added the faculty union is “always concerned with ensuring that our students are getting the most out of the University experience and their coursework and learning as possible.” Part of making the best educational experience is considering what faculty learned about teaching during the pandemic, as well as all the skills they had prior to the pandemic, she said.
Michael Harrison, chair of the marketing department who teaches some of his courses in a hybrid format, said a “detriment” to teaching hybrid is that if students miss an in-person class, they miss an entire week of discussion and interaction.
He said prior to the pandemic, the marketing department offered a few hybrid sections of courses due to the style of the class, but the department is now offering a lot more hybrid courses.
He said he has adapted his teaching pedagogy to fit the hybrid format. For example, in a hybrid format, students only meet twice in person during the first two weeks of classes. Therefore, he dedicates more class time to discussion during the beginning weeks so students can become familiar with him and each other.
He said it is important to emphasize the value of the flexibility of modalities, but added, “My concern or my question is, with these new tools, is it a better fit for most of the students or are they benefiting from it and not just because it's convenient. … Are they learning what they need to learn?”
Harrison said he did not want first-year students choosing online courses because they need the in-person experience of engaging with their professor and their campus.
Latrell Williams, a freshman environmental science major, said he prefers courses to be face to face because he learns better hands on, and he gets more easily distracted learning online.
He added he is capable of doing well in online courses, so he did not consider course modality when signing up for courses, but rather what the courses were about.
Teddy Gay, a freshman computer science major, said he enjoys face-to-face classes more because “I feel more immersed in the lecture. I feel more inclined to ask the teacher questions. And it is easier to get into contact with the teacher because they're right in front of me.”
He added that online lectures feel as though he is watching a video.
Gay said he thinks classes are not taken seriously when they are taught online. “Everyone is less likely to talk.”
He added, “You're less likely to actually retain the knowledge because you're not in a learning environment. You're in your home.”
Gay said if there are classes he needs to take being offered in remote settings, he would still sign up for them, but he would prefer the classes be offered in a face-to-face format.
Emma DiGregorio, a senior psychology major, said she is taking two classes asynchronously this semester because she wanted to be on campus less often and will be taking all of her classes online next semester for the same reason.
She said a benefit of online courses is that she can work at her own pace. However, she sees the upside of face-to-face classes as well. “It’s definitely easier to learn in-person for me. And you get to see your friends.”
Jordan Newell, a junior communication, media, and performance major, said while choosing his semester schedule, one of his main priorities is avoiding online courses as well as filling college requirements.
He said online classes can be distracting, but in-person, students “feel obligated to pay attention,” adding the face-to-face component also helps with attendance.
Tiana Joseph, a freshman psychology major, said she feels more energized when the class is in person because there is a physical classroom to go to whereas in an online course, “You just open up your laptop.”
Kristen LeBlanc, a junior, said she is neurodivergent, so she sees the benefits of both online learning and in-person learning.
She said that being in person, having face-to-face contact, and being able to take notes as the professor lectures is helpful, but there are also professors who do not make visual components to their lectures, so having everything posted in an online format is helpful.
“Having that online basis does help. I think it really depends on what your learning style is,” she said.
LeBlanc added, “I know with the pandemic, online learning has been a little bit more useful, and I'm hoping that we can improve as we go along.”