Even online, ground students feel touch of class
Editor’s note: Reprinted from the November 2020 issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version, click here.
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
Working from home is not always as easy as people think.
It forced Dr. Donna DeMilia to craft an intricate game plan in the search for a work/life balance.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience, without question,” the Associate Professor of Accounting said. “Get a routine normalized to the extent that you can and try to really mimic what your office life would be like.”
In DeMilia’s case, that meant duplicating the two-monitor setup she had in her office on campus and knowing when to step away from the computer at the end of the workday.
The same goes for the Grand Canyon University online student community, whose ranks were joined this fall by nearly 5,000 ground students who decided to stay home and go fully online rather than be on campus during the pandemic.
But thanks to the LoudCloud learning management system and video conferencing/messaging apps such as Zoom and Loom, the transition was not only possible – it still was an effective learning environment for students and faculty.
“I had to be open that there were things I had to change about my teaching style,” said Dr. Kathryn Kitzmiller, a chemistry instructor for the College of Science, Engineering and Technology who also is teaching online this semester.
Like many GCU faculty members, Kitzmiller had experience with online teaching but is always looking for ways to make sure students understand the material. The unique circumstances of COVID-19 forced her to adapt to online instruction for classes she previously taught in person and also challenged her to assist students with the transition.
“I ask them, like literally every day, ‘How’s it going? What am I doing well and what am I not doing well?’” Kitzmiller said. “As we moved quizzes and exams online, it was, ‘How did that go?’
“I always ask them to give me feedback. Every single week there’s an end of-the-week DQ (discussion question), and I run it in all of my online sections and I just kind of ask them … I read it and respond to it.”
This is done, Kitzmiller added, in the hope of creating an inviting environment for students who might not feel comfortable giving feedback or asking questions in a public setting. She hopes to help bridge the gap for students who would have stayed after class to ask a question. That level of attention and care for students has become a major facet of GCU’s educational reputation. It is the standard for which all faculty members strive.
“I don’t know a single traditional faculty member that would not take the shirt off their back to help a student,” said Dr. Jennifer Jones, who teaches psychology.
Teaching online didn’t change Jones’ attitude about helping students, no matter what the hour.
“I’ve always been passionate about my students,” Jones said. “So the fact that I think this will help them learn, I will do it.
“The fact that I get texts at 2 a.m., it doesn’t bother me because I know where they’re at right now and they are unsure. They’re afraid they’re not going to get the grades they need for their scholarships. They don’t know what’s going to happen next fall. They have all of these different things, and if I can take one thing away and help them feel successful and feel confident in one arena in the classroom, I want to do that.”
It’s the same dedication that has drawn in online learners from around the world. And it’s a labor of love that has allowed ground students to flourish in the online format.
“When we left campus in March, I absolutely hated it (online learning) and thought that I was going to fail all my classes, but I actually did super good,” sophomore sociology major Reina Knight said. “It was hard in the beginning, but I got used to it. I asked a whole bunch of questions, and it somehow got easier and my grades improved.”
She misses the convenience of asking questions in person in the classroom but has found far more positives from the online setting than she had initially thought.
Robin Daniels, a sophomore majoring in government with an emphasis in legal studies, had a similar experience when she chose to take her classes online this year.
“A lot of my friends went to schools that, when COVID hit, had zero online programs. They did everything in person,” she said. “So when it hit, they had to create a program really quickly, so it was not the best program.
“What GCU does is everything is electronic already, so it’s super easy to turn in assignments in LopesWrite. I think it’s good that we had it when COVID hit because if we didn’t, it probably would have put a dent in a lot of people’s plans for the year.”
As positive as her experience online has been, Daniels has every intention of returning to in-person learning when she feels safe doing so.
“I do see myself going back to campus because it’s just a great atmosphere,” she said. “The thing I miss most is just the environment of GCU because, as everybody knows, it’s the best environment.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].