SJMC Adjusts to Online Learning
As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to spread ahead of the 2020-21 academic year, the University of Iowa made the decision to move a majority of classes online. While it has presented challenges and removed the in-person experience for most students, the School of Journalism and Mass Communications has adjusted well to the “new normal”.
Instructors in SJMC have seen the transition to online learning as an opportunity to better connect with students through the power of Zoom.
"Digital tools have made connecting with students easy and efficient,” said lecturer Charles Munro. “I see them, they see me, we share screens, they submit assignments. The software allows us to feed ideas back and forth using microphone and chat simultaneously.”
Online classes have removed the typical structure of in-person classes, with some courses opting for recorded lectures and discussion posts in favor of scheduled meeting times. This has given students the ability to construct their schedules in a way that best suits them and gives them more accessibility to their instructors, especially when it comes to office hours.
"It is nice for the students that they can connect with me without having to come into campus specifically for a meeting,” said associate professor Brian Ekdale. “Especially if it’s a short one. I often have students sign on and ask a couple of quick questions and they sign off. If they had to come to my office or the classroom to ask those questions, they may not do so.”
Not every course offered by SJMC has been converted to online learning, with certain courses being held fully in-person or through a hybrid model, which rotates a group of students into the classroom at designated times.
"The experience of teaching and learning in person is no longer taken for granted, but instead regarded as a true privilege,” said associate professor David Dowling. “The in-person minutes - however masked and distanced - with my students are cherished and seem to go by more quickly than before COVID. The pandemic has thrown us mostly into a digital experience in terms of our work and entertainment, so I’m noticing that students in my in-person class arrive more prepared and eager to participate.”
SJMC has always welcomed visitors from the journalism field to visit classrooms and meet with students. While the shift to online learning has hindered their ability to visit campus in-person, online connectivity has allowed for visits that may not have occurred otherwise.
Ken Aagaard, an alum inductee into the SJMC Hall of Fame, has had a long career producing major sporting events, including the Super Bowl. Aagaard visited Charles Munro’s Business of Sport Communication class, sharing stories and offering advice.
Students also heard from Jamelle Bouie, an opinion columnist for The New York Times and political analyst for CBS News. Bouie spoke to multiple courses including Journalistic Reporting & Writing, The Politics of Disbelief: The Pandemic, Conservative Media and Science, and made an appearance on the “Iowa Journalist” podcast, hosted by SJMC intern Jack Martin. Shereen Marison Meraji, co-host and senior producer of the NPR podcast “Code Switch”, virtually visited classrooms for two days and Dr. Sara J. Jackson hosted a virtual panel, “#HashtagActivism: Networks of Race & Gender Justice”.
"There are incredibly talented and relevant professionals out there that may not be able to come to campus for three days, especially if they are based out of the coasts,” said Ekdale. “But the virtual visit has opened up opportunities for Shereen and Jamelle to come when they might have otherwise said no for logistical reasons. I think this opens up real possibilities for the future.”
In addition to visitors, SJMC internship coordinator Paul Jensen hosted a series of webinars that connected students with alumni who talked about their careers, offering advice and answering student questions.
There have been many changes that have come along with the switch to online learning. It’s been an adjustment, and while it’s no secret that in-person learning is the preferred method for everyone, increased visitation possibilities and the ease of communication has opened the doors for changes that will remain implemented as the university eases back into the “old normal”.