When the COVID-19 pandemic forced all instruction to an online format, Keith Thraen-Borowski, Ph.D., didn’t find it hard to adapt the learning component of his classes to a remote setting. The difficultly came in making sure his students were handling the transition.
“Some students are struggling,” Dr. Thraen-Borowski, professor of kinesiology, said. “They are sad and distracted for very obvious reasons – whether by being away from campus, the change in routine, trying to study at home with family, or simply the news in general. My goal is to help them get through this, not only academically, but as people.”
For the past year and a half, Dr. Thraen-Borowski has been recording his lectures for his students to watch prior to their scheduled class times. Once in the classroom together, they are able to apply the content of the lecture in hands-on activities to help them better understand it. With that face-to-face instruction taken away, his focus is as much about the students themselves as it is the content.
“My students were coming into the classroom as a group to work together, practice, and think about the material in more real-life scenarios,” he said. “Now, they are still doing all of that using Zoom, but utilizing this platform is as much a way of me checking in on them as human beings to make sure everyone is okay. We are still trying to do the hands-on learning – just virtually. In the classroom, it is primarily group discussions. The technology we have allow still allows for that.”
Even with the his established format, modifications are being made to make sure students are able to not only get the material, but also in a way that is easy for them to find. Dr. Thraen-Borowski has rerecorded some lectures to better present the material and had some trial-and-error with online platforms.
“Students are already stressed. To try to teach them new platforms and new things is just adding to their plates. Instead of me trying to make a class of 35 students learn new communication methods, I reached out to them to see what they are already using. If they are already communicating with each other in a certain way, I can take them time to learn it so that is one less thing they have to worry about. This way, they only have to focus on learning the content and not the delivery system.”
The process continues to be an exercise in adaptability. For Dr. Thraen-Borowski, feedback from students is the key.
“This situation is new for all of us so I am constantly asking ‘how are things going?’ ‘Does this app or platform work?’ We need to be super flexible to make it work and give them the information they need to succeed.”
With all the changes in routine, Dr. Thraen-Borowski is using his classes as a steadying point for the students to build around. Having some of the online components already in place, studying his material and meeting as a group hopefully provides a source of routine and normalcy. And as a way to continue to connect as fellow students.
“As a teacher, it is a great feeling to know that they loved coming to my class because of the sense of community that we created. Now, we use Zoom to get together and still have that connection. We have even met as a group outside of class time just to simply converse and catch up with each other. Sometimes, I will leave those sessions early so they can have time together without me because that it important, too. ”