Faculty Senate discussed needs and addressed concerns regarding online learning with the university administration at its April 14 meeting.

Senators met with Assistant Vice President of the Office of Distance and Extending Learning Dana Willett and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Vedaraman Sriraman.

Sriraman, who is also a professor of engineering technology, believes his role is not to convince faculty to make a shift toward online learning but to make their experiences teaching through different platforms better.

“We are not here to promote online or distance education,” Sriraman says, “We are here mostly to learn from faculty, we want to know what the faculty needs are for online teaching in the fall, if anyone has any input for online instruction post-pandemic, if there are any gaps and how we might best [serve] faculty.”

Rachel Davenport, Faculty Senate member and professor in the Department of Biology, believes discussing faculty concerns and needs is imperative due to the rise in online courses that are now being taught.

“There are far more online courses now than fall 2019, maybe almost triple at this point, so, it’s a great idea to have a conversation about how the Office of Distance and Extended Learning could help us with what we need now,” Davenport says.

Some of Davenport’s main concerns include addressing the lack of efficient communication and participation.

“One of my concerns is about how we get information about services available to all of the faculty,” Davenport says. “The other is addressing that faculty may be feeling overwhelmed because [of] very little time, I wish there was a way that we could incentivize participation in things like trainings.”

Faculty Senate chair and professor in the Department of Physical Therapy Janet Bezner agrees there are faculty needs that have not been met in relation to online curriculum and says she is glad to address concerns with the Office of Distance and Extended Learning.

“I think this conversation is exactly what we need, and I would also say, a broad-scale assessment of faculty needs has to be a part of this because we're all different, our disciplines are different and our needs are different,” Bezner says.

Bezner also believes the way the university has dealt with faculty’s needs must be reworked to provide a fairer opportunity for concerns to be addressed.

“I know we can't meet everybody's needs, but we’re going to have to meet the majority of people's needs,” Bezner says. “Right now, it seems like the loudest voices and the biggest complainers are getting their needs met and I don't think that's how we want to run the university.”

Willett says to truly address faculty’s needs and concerns, the university must take on a more comprehensive approach. She adds the university is looking forward to taking the necessary steps toward bettering the online learning experience for both faculty members and students.

“My sense is that we need a much more holistic strategy related to technology tools for teaching, whether that's in the classroom or online or whatever it happens to be,” Willett says. “There are a lot of conversations that are going on and I think that the next step is to pull together a group of folks that can address these questions in a real holistic way without making this too big of a project to actually tackle so we can actually make progress."

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