UI faculty add virtual learning strategies for in-person courses

University of Iowa faculty and students have improvised and gained a new perspective with online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. UI staff have found new methods for students to learn material as well as communicate with their professors as needed.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

ASL Lecture and Program instructor Rebecca Clark poses for a photo outside of Phillips Hall on August 23, 2021.

Simone Garza, News Reporter

After an academic year online, some University of Iowa professors are maintaining practices they learned during the pandemic as classes return in person.

In spring 2020, students and faculty had to adapt to a hybrid and eventually all-virtual learning environment at the UI after classes were ordered to go online in the span of a week by the state Board of Regents.

For the current semester, most classes are back to their pre-pandemic operations. Classes with more than 150 students enrolled, or classes offered through Distance and Online Education, are online.

UI American Sign Language Program Director Rebecca Clark said before the pandemic, the program would do in-class testing. She said she would show videos in class and have in-person discussions with students.

“If you responded very quickly, you were not able to progress until everybody was ready,” Clark said. “Or, if you needed more time to think about that video, you maybe would feel rushed.”

Clark said she has made modifications for exams. She said the new exam structure allows her to test both the students’ receptive and expressive skills in American Sign Language.

“Now that our testing is online, we use UI Capture to embed videos into the questions on the ICON quizzes,” she said. “What’s really beneficial about this is that students are able to watch questions asked in ASL and respond to questions in ASL by uploading a video response.”

Clark said students have had a better experience with the new exam techniques.

“This new kind of testing is student-paced,” she said. “They get to decide how many times they watch a video before answering the questions. We find that students take more detailed notes because they are not aware of the questions that will be asked regarding the video’s content.”

Associate Professor of Art History Björn Anderson said there have been two changes in his teaching since the pandemic started.

“Teaching on Zoom, I quickly realized that class participation was an equity issue. Not everybody could afford a good computer or high-speed, stable internet,” he said. “Strict requirements like, ‘You must have your camera on at all times,’ were not feasible for a lot of students. Now, I’m much more mindful of equity issues in course planning and delivery, which was a good takeaway.”

Cornelia Lang, associate dean for undergraduate education and professor of physics and astronomy, said she sent out a student experience survey in fall 2020 for students to reflect on their experience with online learning.

When asked if instructors in courses were mindful of additional challenges students were facing due to the pandemic, 30 percent of participants said “sometimes,” followed by 25 percent who said “rarely.”

Anderson said mental health during the virtual period became a serious matter for students and staff. He said during the first year of the pandemic, there was an inspiring community in his smaller classes, with a lot of student-to-student compassion.

“So many of us had a rough year,” Anderson said. “I think it really normalized some conversations about mental health and disabilities. I found students were more willing to talk openly about how they were doing, and they did a great job supporting each other with kind words and positive comments in chat.”