Academics in a pandemic By: Serena Dugar Ioane

Online courses added to professors’ workloads, but they are grateful to learn new skills and keep their positions

Since classes moved online, BYU–Hawaii professors said their workload increased, and they miss seeing their students in-person. However, they are thankful to have their jobs, and they enjoy learning new technology platforms like Zoom and Proctorio.

Interviewees, from the right Gale Pooley, Brent Yergensen, and Tom Court

Increasing workload

Gale Pooley, an associate professor of faculty in the School of Business & Government, shared how unemployment increased dramatically. According to data collected from the Hawaii State Dept. of Labor and Industrial Relations, unemployment claims increased from 15,000 to 150,000 in Hawaii due to the pandemic. Because of this, he is grateful to have a job and an income in a crisis.

He said professors’ lives have not been too difficult relative to Hawaii’s small business owners and non-government employees. “We’ve had to learn how Zoom works and wear masks, but we’re all still getting paychecks,” Pooley explained.

Tom Court, an assistant professor of Education & Social Work, said he noticed it takes more time and anticipatory planning to prepare for remote, asynchronous teaching.

Because of classes going online, he said, “It’s also critical to respond more immediately with feedback.”

Brent Yergensen, an associate professor of Arts & Letters, remarked how his workload has been quite heavier. “Every conversation, every question session, every PowerPoint lesson and every overview of an assignment has to be produced, scripted, filmed, posted and followed up upon. The amount of preparation is significantly more for faculty.

“More worrisome is wondering if the wisdom and impact of content are becoming as meaningful to the students in this distance format,” Yergensen said. “Online learning has a purpose, but it is weak compared to the physical classroom quality of learning.”

Pooley said professors who held live classes, the workload may have increased somewhat, but professors who recorded videos or sent students to YouTube had seen a reduction in their workload.

He said learning Zoom and Proctorio took some time but has added to a professor’s skillset. “Our biggest problem is that we didn’t have support staff that knew much about creating effective and productive online courses,” Pooley added.

Missing students

Court said his favorite part about teaching has always been connecting with students. “Even with video conferencing technology, it is still challenging to have a similar sense of connection when teaching remotely.”

Before coming to BYUH, Court taught online for more than three years, and most of his graduate work has been online, so he is no stranger to online learning, he said.

“However, I’m definitely in the camp of teachers who prefer face-to-face learning,” Court added.

Yergensen said it is hard not to be with the students in a physical setting. “I miss being with the students in the classroom. The result of true mentorship is hindered in remote teaching.”

He is looking forward to being in the classroom again, saying, “We are learning to be better remote and online teachers, but I miss the BYUH students.”

Better solutions

Pooley said he thinks the shift to online classes had to be much harder on students than faculty. He highlighted how BYU in Idaho has years of experiencing delivering high-quality courses remotely.

“We should have considered encouraging students to take these courses. There are such great options at a much lower cost.”

He shared that Clayton Christensen, a member of the Church and a Harvard business professor, recognized as an expert in innovation and growth, said in 2018, half of the colleges would close in the next decade because of financial issues.

Pooley added COVID-19 has accelerated this forecast. Pooley said, “It would be a good time for BYU–Hawaii to reimagine itself. Maybe ask students to do two years in Pathways or something equivalent before coming here.”

Pooley said traditional college can be costly and time consuming compared to hybrid higher education options that use online courses to lower costs and speed up the process. “BYUH charges $185 a credit hour. In some countries, Pathways is as low as $6 a credit hour. Imagine paying $720 for a bachelor’s degree.”