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Professors welcome spring semester with lessons learned

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As the coronavirus pandemic put a limit to in-person courses and shifted classes to online and hybrid methods, professors across the country found themselves needing to adjust to the new normal. A well-deserved and long-needed winter break let UTEP professors’ recharge and reflect on the lessons learned during Fall 2020 to prepare for the Spring semester. 

For political science professor, Cigdem Sirin, having empathy was essential in helping her students thrive last semester. 

So, I think that’s one lesson,” Sirin said. “To be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others, to be able to care, have the motivation to care about those who are in need, who are in distress.”  

But for Sirin and other professors, empathy is not enough to keep students motivated. In fact, Sirin believes student engagement is imperative for online learning.  

Although Sirin is a seasoned online instructor, she still felt the need to adjust in her teaching style. As she noticed how the pandemic was taking a toll on her students, by isolating them from the classroom, Sirin figured the lack of human interaction was weighing them down. So, she created an eight-week-long simulation activity to attract more interest in remote learning. 

Because of the pandemic, I intentionally decided that that’s something that I had to introduce,” Sirin said. “And it paid off.” 

Just like Sirin, university studies professor, DeAnna Varela, tried new techniques to increase student engagement on top of her 10 years of online teaching experience. Varela implemented an engagement project that led students to participate in campus activities, which she called a “digital story.” 

And as part of the digital story, I had my students attend events on campus, virtually,” Varela said. And surprisingly, there were countless amounts of activities and workshops and trainings for students, faculty and staff online. 

As part of the Entering Student Program at UTEP, which aims to help first year, and transfer students transition to UTEP, Varela and other professors in the program are required to meet with students at certain dates and times to increase live group interactions and increase engagement.  

Communications professor, Frank Perez, adapted his courses to a fully online teaching technique. He found that creating discussion boards, in which students can converse at any time, increases activity and engagement from his students. But no matter how efficient discussion boards could be for communicating and engaging, Perez still found barriers between him and his students.   

It just isn’t the same. You know, you miss that immediacy,” Perez said. 

Although UTEP will continue blending online, hybrid, and in-person classes during the Spring, Wilson shared her optimism for increasing activities on campus the week after Spring Break, March 22, as UTEP becomes a COVID-19 vaccine provider.  

“We expect campus operations in Fall 2021 will not be constrained by COVID-19, and that may begin as early as Summer 2021,” Wilson wrote in an email addressed to UTEP faculty, staff and students. “That will give us the opportunity to use what we have learned during this pandemic and come back better than we were before.” 

Andrea Valdez-Rivas may be reached at [email protected]; @AndreaVRNews on Twitter.  

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Professors welcome spring semester with lessons learned