Park Faculty Scholars Reflect on the Transition to Online Instruction

Cyndi Edgington, Billy Flowers, and Lisa Parks weigh in on their experiences moving courses online in the middle of a semester.

From left, Cyndi Edgington is a Park Faculty Scholar for the Class of 2023, Lisa Parks is a Park Faculty Scholar for the Class of 2022, and Billy Flowers is a Park Faculty Scholar for the Class of 2021.

“I have always believed that NC State students are exceptional,” said Park Faculty Scholar Cyndi Edgington. “They rise to every challenge and are proof of the ‘Think and Do the Extraordinary’ motto.”

A number of challenges arose in mid-March when NC State rapidly transitioned to remote instruction to protect the health of the university community and limit the potential spread of COVID-19. Edgington and her fellow Park Faculty Scholars Billy Flowers and Lisa Parks weighed in on their experiences moving courses online in the middle of a semester.

While Flowers was already teaching one course online and Edgington had previous experience teaching remotely, it was a new medium for Parks. “After the initial scramble, it’s gone well,” she said. 

Parks, a teaching professor in the College of Sciences, shared that she was impressed by her students’ perseverance. “My students — and I suspect, our greater Wolfpack community — have been so resilient. I’m so proud of how they have responded,” she said. She explained that many have shared online resources and formed study groups with digital tools including Moodle forums and Google hangouts.

Flowers, the William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, described how the transition played out for his introductory animal science course. He used Camtasia to create and post recordings of his remaining lectures. Luckily all of the lecture notes and handouts were already available online. “For the laboratories, I have video footage that I have collected over the years,” he explained. He added narration and his students are responsible for reviewing the videos and evaluating what is taking place. “For example, for one of the laboratories, students would have gotten to trim feet on sheep and goats. There is a video of the correct way to trim feet. They take a look at it first and then there are a series of pictures of the bottoms of sheep and goat feet. They have to tell me if it is good or bad. If it is bad, they have to tell me what is wrong and how to fix it.”

Edgington, a teaching assistant professor of STEM education at the College of Education, has dealt with the difficulty of adapting distance learning for student teachers. “Since schools are closed, they cannot get the ‘normal’ classroom experiences. We have worked to create different experiences that we think are equally meaningful,” she said. She is also developing training experiences for student teachers to learn remote instruction. It’s a skill set they may need as future educators.

While all three professors mentioned that they missed face-to-face interaction, they said that online learning has benefits. “The biggest advantage is that we are able to meet students where they are,” Edgington explained. “Whether they are in an apartment in Raleigh or in their hometown in the U.S. or abroad, we can still engage them in learning. We have a host of digital tools that allow us to adapt our face to face instruction in fun and exciting ways.” 

While Flowers reported that several of his students “actually seem to like the format,” all professors expressed that online learning requires increased self-motivation and regulation. Parks explained that it is easier to fall behind in online classes, particularly if they are taught asynchronously. “If you do fall behind, communicate with your instructor,” she recommended. 

For both students and professors, virtual learning has been time-consuming. “Preparing online material can take twice as long, sometimes more, than preparing face-to-face materials,” Edgington explained. Flowers likewise noted that his students were doing more work leading up to the lectures. “I always tell students to look over the notes before class and read the materials before we go out to the laboratories, but they seldom do when they know we are going to discuss it face-to-face in class or show them how to do things in the laboratory. They are actually doing this very frequently in the online classes,” he said.

The semester has presented unique challenges for everyone in the NC State community. “While these events have caused a lot of disappointment and anxiety, we also have the opportunity to learn and problem solve in ways that others have not had the opportunity to do. Use that to your advantage,” Edgington said. 

“Position yourself as someone who has faced these challenges head-on, been resourceful and creative, and powered through despite the struggles. We will all come through to the other side stronger because of it.”