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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Succeeding in asynchronous classes: Professors and tutoring service staff offer tips and tricks

Professors and tutoring administration share the behind-the-scenes work of asynchronous classes and tips for students’ success

As asynchronous classes are becoming increasingly encouraged universitywide, students and teachers have had to pivot to new educational practices. 

Gregory Dobbins, an English professor, outlined the difficulties behind conducting asynchronous classes. Dobbins said that they are hard to take and even more difficult to prepare for. He often spends three hours producing a 30-minute lecture, and when COVID-19 first broke out, he estimated that he was on his laptop for 14 hours a day trying to conduct and redirect plans for his courses.  

Ethan Scheiner, a political science professor, stated that he has experienced the same issue. Normally, Scheiner would prepare for classes by reviewing past notes, however, now he needs to construct more distinct plans to make his videos as succinct and clear as possible, making the process more time consuming.

“It took me close to a full day to do any given lecture,” Scheiner said. “I probably put six to seven hours [in] per lecture.” 

Dobbins believes that students retain maximum information and focus when there are quick breaks every 10 minutes during class. With online classes, this practice is difficult because he wants to keep videos concise. Thus, he is experimenting with taking pauses when lecturing to keep students engaged. 

Global situations have made it increasingly difficult for professors to maintain their original plans overall. In addition to the pandemic, Dobbins noted that since transitioning to online classes last winter, a large scale event has periodically occurred around week seven or eight of each quarter that impacted lesson plans. 

He referenced the Black Lives Matter protests as a reaction to the death of George Floyd that happened near the end of Spring Quarter. During summer session, week seven marked times of displacement and power outages as California communities were ravaged by wildfires. Finally, Dobbins said that this past fall, the university and professors were prepared for the worst as the elections approached. 

With all of the circumstances students and professors have to adjust to, Dobbins and Scheiner shared their tips for staying focused. 

As the days pass by, Dobbins suggested that students add structure to their lives by forming new habits. Beginning March 14, the day of the statewide stay-at-home order, he began to listen to a different underground rock-n-roll album every day, which soon became an important part of his routine. This scheduled event gave him structure and new discoveries within his otherwise monotonous day.  

“If you can somehow register and mark how time passes, [then] it’s not just all this undifferentiated mess but there’s one thing that makes this day different than the next day,” Dobbins said. 

Similarly, Scheiner encouraged students to implement structure throughout their day. Though his lectures take hours to complete, he combats procrastination by ensuring videos are produced every Thursday. He sympathized with students and examined his own past as a “flaky college student.” He said that he eventually broke his cycle of procrastination because he hated the anxiety of finishing his work at the last minute.    

“At a certain point I internalized and kept that voice inside of me and just said to myself, that feeling is too horrible and makes me feel so awful,” Scheiner said. “The fear of that voice and that horrible stressed out feeling […] made me internalize deadlines.” 

Beyond personal projects and creating a routine, students can utilize campus resources such as the Academic Assistance and Tutoring Center (AATC) for direct academic support. 

During COVID-19, the AATC has rapidly shifted its services online to safely accommodate students. In fact, Carol Hunter, the executive director of AATC, believes that their services are more advantageous now than they were during in-person sessions. Previously, she mentioned that drop-in rooms had 50-75 students all seeking help at once. Now, students can sign up for individual remote appointments and get free one-on-one tutoring. 

Inez Anders, the director of AATC tutoring services, also gave tips to help students remain focused and diligent with their work. 

“Form studying groups with peers […], find time to watch class together for that built-in accountability,” Anders said. 

She also recommended forming Zoom study or silent groups that would mimic the space of being in the library with your classmates or friends and watching videos put out by the AATC for help on topics from math to writing.  

For videos on developing better mindsets, Hunter recommended the Office of Educational Opportunities and Enrichment Services (OEOES), which she said provides workshops that help students delve into subjects ranging from positive thinking, time management and grit.

Both Hunter and Anders encouraged students to begin tutoring or seeking help early on in the term before major issues can arise. Furthermore, Hunter said, students should try not to be intimidated by the prospect of seeking help.

“We try to meet the student where they’re at,” Hunter said. “We don’t have expectations of all the material that you should know when you’re coming in for tutoring because that’s what tutoring does, it fills in that gap for you.” 
Written by: Farrah Ballou — features@theaggie.org

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