Remote Professors Evaluate Online Process

by James Leonard | Staff Writer

SCRANTON – Life has changed greatly for the many professors at The University of Scranton who have opted to continue remote instruction despite the campus reopening.

Adam Pratt, Ph.D., is a history professor who said despite being introverted at times, he feels very isolated from his peers who are on campus this semester.

“I’d love to be back on campus,” Pratt said. “The few times I’ve gone back on campus this semester were almost painful because it’s sad to leave. I miss my department. I miss my friends in other departments.”

Pratt said he decided to continue online instruction late this summer, which has since taken up a lot of his free time at home.

“The late decision is my fault,” Pratt said. “This mostly revolved around my daughter’s daycare and their protocols for handling contact tracing. To say that I didn’t want a repeat of the spring, when both my wife and I were at home trying to work while caring for a two-year-old, is an understatement.”

Although he is finding it more and more difficult to get that free time, Pratt said he is trying to get outside as much as he can to partake in his favorite hobbies.

“Because the weather has been so nice this fall, I have been outside more than usual,” Pratt said. “I love gardening, so I’ve been in my garden a lot. I still have tomatoes coming in, which is almost unheard of for mid-October.”

Pratt is also making efforts to get exercise with what free time he has through walks and runs with his dog. He said that he has been attempting to bake bread and is grilling more than usual while at home this summer and fall with the warm weather.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a grill master, and that I love having friends over to cook for them,” Pratt said. “So I have had to get creative with what I cook. I made a tri-tip in August that I still think about. I’ve also been experimenting a lot with chimichurri, which is a Argentinian/Uruguayan sauce that I’ve been pairing with all sorts of grilled delicacies.”

Pratt said the grading process is a lot more time consuming than it normally is and emailing students individually regarding their questions takes a lot more time and effort.

“I wind up answering the same question over email two or three times,” Pratt said. “In class that could be taken care of in a minute, but trying to keep everyone on the same page while remote has been a challenge. I assign lots of written papers and essays, and I find that grading takes so much longer than a printed copy.”

Some professors are taking advantage of the free time they have instructing students online.

Michael E. Oakes, Ph.D., is a psychology professor at the University who is teaching solely through remote methods this semester and is enjoying more free time, but said he is missing his daily commute to campus each morning.

“When teaching on campus, I walk or run the 3-4 miles (round trip) to the University. Thus, I don’t have that travel time now,” Oakes said.

Oakes said it took a long time for him to record all of the lectures for his classes and he often finds online instruction more stressful than in-person instruction.

“We have to rely on online testing which seems to have unexplainable glitches,” Oakes said.

Despite having some high-stress events involved with online instruction, the overall experience for Oakes seems to be positive.

“Oddly, the semester seems to be going very smoothly and I rarely get emails,” Oakes said. “I get more emails from students when teaching on campus than now.”

He said he is planning to continue his online instruction through next semester and potentially onward so he can work on personal projects and spend more time with family like he has been doing for the past several months.

“Although student evaluations of their instructors are optional this fall, I have chosen to get evaluated,” Oakes said. “I am curious to see if students like me more virtually than in person. If I go over better virtually, I might just try to keep doing it.”

Despite having to adapt to online instruction, Oakes said his life at home has not changed much.

“We travel every weekend to our farm property in Bradford County where we are building a large barn,” Oakes said. “I have more time now to work on a book that I am writing with my wife who also teaches at the University.”

Oakes’ wife and two children are all working from home this semester.

William Rowe, Ph.D., is a philosophy professor who has had some technical issues while instructing remotely.

“In teaching remotely there’s more free time in one respect because traveling to class is not an issue, but that extra time isn’t free exactly,” Rowe said. “There are quite a few technical and organizational matters that come into play when teaching remotely as compared to teaching in the classroom.”

Rowe said that he often finds himself having to advise students more and stay more on top of the course than he usually would while on campus.

“In my experience, the need for organization is greater in teaching remotely or online. So in a way teaching online is more time consuming rather than less so,” Rowe said.