Some professors worry about the transition to online curriculum due to the coronavirus outbreak | Credit: Lantern file photo

According to a 2018 survey at Ohio State, 58.4 percent of students had at least one professor that didn’t regularly use Carmen Canvas — the university’s online course website — throughout the semester. Now, Carmen and a videoconferencing software is the center of students’ education for the next two weeks following Ohio State’s transition to virtual instruction due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Though Michael Hofherr, chief information officer at Ohio State, said at a press conference Tuesday that the university will provide resources to ease the transition, the university’s suspension of face-to-face classes through March 30 due to COVID-19 has left some professors questioning the effects on student performance and professors’ utilization of Carmen Canvas.

“You can’t just post things on Canvas and expect students to be able to have the same experience,” Jasmine Roberts, a lecturer in the School of Communication, said.

University President Michael V. Drake announced Monday night in a universitywide email that lectures, discussion sections, seminars and other similar face-to-face classroom settings will be replaced by virtual sessions due to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Drake said in a press conference Tuesday that some classes will be easier to transition online, while others — like labs — will come down to an individual determination dependent on the class. 

“Some, like laboratory experiments, can’t be done online, and so there’s a range, and as we look at that range of things that can be done online, we’ll have to make individual decisions with particular classes as to what the right thing to do is,” Drake said. “We believe that some instruction will take place in person but under circumstances that minimize the chance of viral transmission and we think that’s okay.” 

A collaboration in 2018 between faculty, staff and Undergraduate Student Government, known as Carmen Common Sense, found that 58.4 percent of students surveyed had at least one professor that did not regularly use Carmen throughout the semester, according to a report awaiting publication by Nicole Kraft, an associate clinical professor of journalism who was part of the collaboration. 

Roberts said the university has been dealt the difficult task of 12,000 faculty having to continue the education of more than 60,000 students online, and having proactively mandated training in online education would have made the transition easier. 

“Really taking professors through that process of what that looks like and the differences between [face-to-face and online teaching] is probably the most effective way in my opinion as opposed to creating a website,” Roberts said.

Hofherr said the university is assisting professors and instructors on how to use Carmen, the university’s online education management system, and Zoom, a video-conferencing software.

The website was created as a guideline for instructors to take their course completely online, Hofherr said. It includes information on how to upload course syllabi, organize class materials and gradebooks, and use Zoom to teach virtually.

Hofherr also said 50-100 individuals are being trained to help the faculty transition to online instruction and answer their questions.

“We’re here to help our faculty move forward,” Hofherr said. “But we know this is going to be a challenge.”

Drake, who teaches an undergraduate course along with his duties as president, said he is one of the instructors who will be learning to use Zoom in the coming days. 

“I’m going to need to learn between now and next week how to get my course on Zoom so that it works,” Drake said. “ I think, honestly, thousands of my colleagues are going to be really rolling up their sleeves and leaning in to do what they can to make sure that content gets delivered.”

Carmen and Zoom are both “scalable,” meaning they can handle a large number of users at once when needed, Hofherr said, and the university’s internet is expected to handle the increased use by students and faculty.

Stanford University, which has also temporarily suspended face-to-face instruction, is utilizing its version of Canvas and Zoom to facilitate virtual learning, according to the university’s website.

Gov. Mike DeWine called for other Ohio colleges and universities to take similar action to help slow the spread of the virus across the state on Tuesday. 

John Carroll University, Otterbein University, Kent State University, the University of Akron, the University of Toledo, Ohio University and Miami University have all acted on DeWine’s call. 

At the time of publication, there are 118,101 confirmed worldwide cases of COVID-19 and 4,262 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

The United States has 808 confirmed cases and 28 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been three confirmed cases in Ohio, all in Cuyahoga county, a county in Northeast Ohio where Cleveland is located.

According to the spring semester 2020 15th day enrollment report, 3,913 Ohio State students are from Cuyahoga County.

Darcy Hartman, a senior lecturer in Ohio State’s economics department, said she plans to continue conducting live lectures using Zoom and an iPad she received through the university’s Digital Flagship Initiative.

Hartman teaches two large face-to-face classes — one with 670 students — and two online classes. She said many of the measures she will have to put in place are easily transferable from the online courses.

“I already have a lot of online resources heading into it and that’s great for me because I can easily move that into my face-to-face classroom,” Hartman said.

However, Roberts said she anticipates transitioning recitations with teaching assistants may be challenging. 

“Online teaching is so different from in-person teaching,” Roberts said. “It’s not just running a course.”

Drake said that moving most of the university’s curriculum online is not an easy task.

“We do a lot of distance learning now, we do a lot of online learning now and we have a great capacity. We’re pleased to do that, but we’ve never done anything like try to have our whole curriculum on as a distance learning platform or online,” Drake said. “And to do that in a week is a Herculean task, and so I, honestly, yesterday wanted to get us started as quickly as we could be, believing that every minute would be precious for that.”

Hartman said she is mainly concerned with students who are already struggling in their classes.

“They really need to reach out to their instructors and not be afraid to ask for help because if they were already struggling, this is going to make it tougher for them,” Hartman said. “We’re sort of at a critical point in the semester.”

Both Roberts and Hartman said this will be a growing opportunity for the university to evaluate its online teaching capabilities.

“It’s a good test of the Buckeye spirit — helping each other out and getting through all of this the best that we can,” Hartman said.