Students and professors detail the challenges of remote instruction

By Tatyanna Carman 

Rider has implemented remote learning for the remainder of the semester as a response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic through an email to students and faculty on March 17. 

The main platform used for remote learning is Zoom, a remote conferencing service. The university sent out a follow-up email on March 25 that contained a link to a student guide to remote access and a link to the Office of Information and Technology website for issues pertaining to access to technology. 

According to Associate Professor of the Department of Communication and Journalism Nancy Wiencek, the teaching and learning center was available for faculty to learn how to use the platform. Wiencek also took a live course with Zoom to familiarize herself with the application. 

Associate Professor of the Department of Communication and Journalism Nancy Wiencek

“The process is by trial and error. For example, the first time I used a breakout room, I technically knew how to enact it to get it started, but I did not know what it looked like for the students,” she said. “So I asked one of the students to say, ‘OK what does it look like on your screen.’ And they said, ‘Well you have to join the breakout room.’ And I was like, ‘Oh. OK well, then I know for next time in another class what to expect and what to do.’”

Wiencek said she used Zoom for all of her classes. She expects her students to have their camera on, be dressed, get out of bed, turn off the microphones when they are not being used and participate so they have a “sense of a normal classroom.” She also said that the experience gave her a new perspective on how to conduct online classes. 

However, not all Zoom classes are conducted the same. Junior dance major Victoria Grisanzio said she was initially stressed when she found out that Rider was adopting remote learning for the rest of the semester because most of her classes were performance-based. 

Victoria Grisanzio, Junior dance major 

“I assumed that the classes would go more paper-based and a lot of evaluations that I have to do, which is kind of annoying because it is almost like my classes are film and dance theory classes now rather than production-based classes. At the same time, I know it was a smart move by the school so it’s mixed feelings,” Grisanzio said. 

She said the stress-load is higher than it was taking classes on campus because she has been doing homework “non-stop” and that by being at home, she felt as though she did not have a grasp on what she has to do.

Sophomore psychology major Jessica Kunz said a couple of her classes use Zoom to create an open conversation about the materials they are provided with, like PowerPoints. She said that she feels like she is “losing the interaction,” which makes the material more difficult and increases her procrastination for the classes that do not use Zoom. Kunz also explained how remote learning, as well as her jobs, have caused her stress. 

Jessica Kunz, Sophomore psychology major 

“My work is a lot more stressful because a lot is on me, I have to learn everything myself, and then do my work and submit it,” she said. “A big issue with this is I’m now trying to manage two jobs, one I work at home since I’m considered essential personnel. I try to work eight hours Monday through Friday which is difficult while also having to come home for Zoom sessions. The other job I work for as a Supplemental Instructor for the university where I have been conducting Zoom sessions myself, which is a change for me.”

Rider Professor from the Department of Sociology and Criminology Richard Zdan expressed how there is no sense of work/life balance by working from home. He said his work is more spread out and it is harder to “concentrate the work,” because students have more questions. Zdan also spoke about issues he was having with the platform.

Richard Zdan, professor from the Department of Sociology and Criminology 

“The biggest problems that I have had have been one, problems with people lagging… That is a fairly disruptive thing when you are trying to do a seminar,” he said. 

Associate Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Douglas McCrea said that the problems people are having with the video teleconferencing software is not recurring and it appears in the beginning because, “people have to learn how to use the technology, and then learn how to thrive in the new environment.”

Associate Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, Douglas McCrea

The university sent out an email to the Rider community that pertained to Zoom security and issues such as password sharing and “Zoom bombing,” where hackers disrupt online classrooms and videoconferences. There are three confirmed incidents of “Zoom bombing,” and they occurred on the first week back from spring break in online classes, according to McCrea. He also said the incidents were most likely the result of password sharing since the passwords were not published publicly online.

“In the first two weeks back since the extended Spring Break, we have hosted about 3,500 Zoom meetings,” said McCrea. “I have been extremely impressed at the level of effort, adaptability, and resiliency of the faculty, staff, and students involved. The handful of incidents, while frustrating for both the faculty and students involved are extremely rare.” 

McCrea said that the university is investigating and responding to any reports of misuse, which will be submitted to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and other law enforcement agencies. 

Wiencek commended students for doing what they need to do to continue to take part in the semester. 

“I know it is challenging for everybody, but I think if we can keep our spirits up, schoolwork provides structure whether it is online or remote, so just keep it up,” she said. “I just want everybody to stay safe and well and we will get through this in the end. We will have a new perspective on what is important to us.” 

Grisanzio suggested that students try their best to stay level-headed during this time and advised students to not get too frustrated with professors since they are adjusting as well and are “compensating for an entire semester lost.” 

“Remember your mental health. Even though things are changing, life is a lot scarier now and you have to be really cautious, just take care of yourself,” said Grisanzio.

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