#MCTeaching&LearningSince1924 is part of an ongoing series about how teaching and learning are taking place at Morton College during the pandemic. Responses are edited for clarity and length.
Mathematics instructor Ryan Tomchek shares how he’s adapting to teaching online classes at Morton College. This is his second year at Morton College and 10th overall in higher education.
With a summer to reflect, what you have learned about teaching online since the spring?
“In my 10 years in higher education, I have taught over 10 classes online ranging over all different levels in mathematics, starting with developmental math all the way up to calculus,” Tomchek said. “One thing I have not done before is teach entire semesters online as we did with the second half of Spring 2020 and the entire Summer 2020 semesters.”
Tomchek’s online courses in the past were set up as a “student-does-it-all” format with all the needed materials accessible online from day one. Students would learn on their own. If a student had a question, they would e-mail it to Tomchek. He would answer with a video reply.
“What I have learned with this sudden change to online learning, is just how many resources there are to make an online class be as ‘in-class’ as possible,” Tomchek said. “I was completely unaware of the features that Zoom has to offer to make the virtual classroom behave as if we are in an actual classroom. It’s amazing how technology evolves.”
What’s working better? How have you been able to reach students more effectively?
“Being able to communicate with my students face-to-face via Zoom makes a big difference,” Tomchek observed. “In the past, all I was able to do was send video replies where the students could see my writing on a screen, but they could only hear my voice. It always felt a little impersonal.
“It has always been difficult to reach students in regular classrooms, so, as you can imagine, it is even more challenging now. Especially with math courses. Students always ask, ‘When will I use this?
“They are never satisfied with the indirect answer, ‘No, you will most likely never have to solve this problem in the real world. However, you will use the critical thinking skills you have obtained from doing these problems.
“Being online naturally makes things impersonal and so it’s hard to connect with the students.”
Any student success stories you’d like to share?
“I was really impressed with most of my students in the Spring semester as to how well they adjusted to the online learning,” Tomchek said. “Most took just as seriously (if not more so) as if we were still in the classroom.”
What’s been the biggest challenge? How have you overcome (or begun to overcome) this challenge?
“The two challenges I have come across by teaching entire semesters online are student engagement and the virtual classroom,” Tomchek said. “Many of our students are fresh out of high school. Leaving a system made to guide and prepare you for college learning and then forced into learning completely online is a difficult adjustment to almost all of our students.
“When we teach online, we tend to lean toward the concept that it is up to the students to engage themselves in the class. That we, as instructors, are unable to motivate them in online learning. I won’t deny that it is difficult to motive them, but it is still important and still part of our responsibility as their instructor.
“The adjustment to the virtual classroom as also be difficult. I am fairly good at learning new technologies, but the pace at which we had to learn them was difficult. I am proficient with using Zoom now, but it was a challenge to figure it all out over the summer before the fall semester started.
What have you learned about yourself, teaching or your students since Morton College went largely online in March?
“I have learned that online education can never replace the in-class experience. I have read articles in the past about how online learning is going to the norm 20 years from now.
“There are just too many social aspects that students miss out by not being in an actual classroom. I know the younger generations have grown up online. Anyone under the age of 18 never knew a time when Facebook and social media did not exist. Because our students can live social lives completely online these days, it is important that they experience social lives in person as well.
“Plus, I would be lying if I said I don’t miss being in the classroom. When you spend 15 to 20 hours in the classroom a week, you sometimes forget that is 15 to 20 hours of human interaction. Right now, the only human interaction I have is with the checkout clerk at the grocery store. I miss working with students.”