Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Southeast faculty adjust to support students’ well-being

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Southeast faculty members have adjusted a variety of strategies in order to help students maintain their well-being as classes have moved online for the rest of the semester.

As students have noted several struggles during these first few weeks of online classes — ranging from lack of reliable internet service to the lack of a “quiet place” to complete coursework — Southeast faculty realized they had to make some changes.

Some of these strategies include new methods of communication and using multiple online platforms to deliver lessons to students.

“A lot of our students come from very different home lives and backgrounds,” said Amber Cook, assistant professor of theatre and costume design. “For example, some students have to babysit their younger siblings because their parents have to work, we have students that aren't able to go home for various reasons, and we have students who maybe going home is the last place they want to be.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Christina Ragain noted personal struggles she was seeing with her students, as well. According to Ragain, some students work in essential jobs, such as grocery stores and hospitals, and have seen an increase in work hours, meaning they have less time to dedicate to classes. She also says another struggle many students are having is lack of internet availability and finding a “quiet space” in which to do coursework.

Some students are having to compete with other family members for computer resources,” said Ragain.

With these struggles in mind, several faculty members are offering support for students struggling with anxiety during this time and have recommendations for students on how to maintain their mental and emotional well-being.

Cook and Ragain said honest and open communication between students and their professors is especially important right now.

“We can’t help if we don’t know. I cannot assume that it’s only an issue with you having internet connectivity issues if you’re not responding to any communications I send to you,” Cook said, when talking about her students. “I don’t necessarily need to know details that are going on in a person’s life, but if I know that someone is struggling, I’m much more apt to work with the student and make it manageable for them.”

Assistant Professor of Mass Media Ecaterina Stepaniuc said she will treat communication online similarly to how she would with a face-to-face course.

“Keeping a close communication with my students is one of my top priorities,” Stepaniuc said. “As a professor, I am passionate about what I do. I try to inject my students with enthusiasm when they take a class with me.”

Cook said she thinks all faculty members should work toward being more flexible with their approach to teaching.

“I think that the same set of standards can’t apply in this situation,” Cook said. “We as faculty need to be flexible, and we need to think about it from a different perspective.”

Cook uses Facebook groups for all of her classes in order to keep students engaged. She also posts information that might not be coursework but is related to the coursework she teaches. Ragain said she records lectures and posts them to YouTube for up to 120 students.

Another way Cook works to keep her students engaged is by sometimes sharing personal content.

“I’m actually a really private person in terms of who I am as a professor, but this whole thing is such a weird shake up,” Cook said.

Some instructors, like John Unterreiner, are thinking completely outside of the box in order to help their students.

John Unterreiner, Criminal Justice & Sociology Instructor, typically sets up his classes in four units. Units one through three have been completed and his classes are currently going into the fourth unit.

For those students that are satisfied with their current grade, they are not required to do some assignments in the fourth unit. If they choose not to, it will not negatively impact their grade. For those students that need points to bring up their grade, they can do the assignments.

Extra credit is being offered for things such as watching a particular movie or film clip. Although he is normally against this idea, during this time, he is offering his students, across all classes, seven free extra credit points. This is being done to let his students know that faculty members are aware of what they are going through, want to be supportive, and are trying to ease the burden.

However, like most classes, final papers and the final exam is required.

Faculty members such as Cook and Stepaniuc have offered words of encouragement for students during this time.

“Faculty and staff are all dealing with this,” Ragain said. “The feeling of isolation is something that both faculty and students are all struggling with.”

The ways in which students respond during this change can offer an opportunity for growth,Stepaniuc said.

“I am the first to tell my students early in the semester that if they are not challenged, they don’t grow,” Stepaniuc said. “Not knowing something and having to learn it is what matures us and helps us become a better version of ourselves, so let’s embrace the challenge and overcome it together.”