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Professors Find Creative Ways to Communicate

by Eleanor Withers

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash.

Students from kindergarten to college are using the video and audio service Zoom in their classes.  So much so that some college students even referred to their school as “Zoom University” this semester. However, some professors at Pitt-Greensburg chose to go a different path.

Assistant Professor Sharon M. Turchick, along with the rest of the Management Accounting department, were already using a software from McGraw Hill in their classrooms. Turchick uses Proctorio along with Zoom simultaneously, allowing her to talk with her students while they solve mathematical problems on their own.

For tests, Turchick appreciates that Proctorio locks the browser so students cannot cheat on that device by going to another page.

“The goal was to try and protect the program, and have the students who are working and doing the right thing, doing everything they’re supposed to be doing, be rewarded accordingly,” Turchick said.

On Canvas, if a student leaves a test to go to another window, the professor is alerted, but the student is not locked out, nor is it stated if the student actually opened another window or just minimized the window Canvas was on.

Dr. Olivia Long, associate professor of biochemistry, uses the program Top Hat along with Zoom.

After Spring Break 2019, when classes switched to being completely online, Dr. Long used a program called Plickers in her classroom, which allowed her to receive students’ answers and feedback while in class. Dr. Long found that the instant feedback was crucial to teaching her classes as effectively as possible.

“So now I have to have, for my in class people and my at home people, something that both can have access to at the exact same time and I can get the whole class surveyed,” Dr. Long said.

Dr. Long likes that Top Hat makes students participate without making them turn on their cameras or mics.

Top Hat also monitors and locks the browser, like Proctorio, to reduce the risk of cheating in tests.

Dr. Gregory Aldous, professor of history, switched to Discord early on in the semester. After many failed Zoom calls, several students recommended the service, and Dr. Aldous switched to using Discord for his lectures. With Discord, the class can use a chat feature, hear the lecture in real time, and communicate with the professor.

“The biggest issue I had with Zoom was an unstable connection. Zoom is a bandwidth hog and my home internet connection is shaky. I often got disconnected during Zoom classes,” Dr. Aldous said. “Discord, on the other hand, is much more efficient with bandwidth, and I’m able to stay connected no problem.”

Dr. Aldous prefers Discord’s chat function to Zoom’s as well.

“Text chats in Discord are persistent and can continue to be added to even when class is not in session,” Dr. Aldous said.  “This is an added benefit, so students and professors can go back and look at the notes of class anytime.”

Dr. Aldous hasn’t been kicked out of any of his lectures when using Discord.  He says he will wait for feedback from his students’ experience with it before choosing to use it again next semester.

“From my perspective as an instructor, though, Discord has been very positive,” Dr. Aldous said.

Despite being so popular, Zoom has flaws, but there are other options out there for professors and educators.

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