UC Berkeley instructors discuss struggles amid online learning

At home school
Charlotte Smith/Courtesy
According to UC Berkeley School of Public Health continuing lecturer Charlotte Smith, students often do not turn their cameras on or engage in class discussions, which make it difficult for her to gauge their understanding of the course content.

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Between supporting students and adapting courses during online learning, UC Berkeley instructors have faced several unique challenges this semester.

Several campus faculty members said they have made adjustments such as seeking mental health support, finding ways to connect with colleagues and preventing cheating online. Kaya Oakes, campus continuing lecturer in college writing, pointed to a need for faculty mental health support in higher education, noting that campus staff cannot use Counseling and Psychological Services or the Tang Center.

“My colleagues and I are so focused on helping our students who are having anxiety and depression that we tend to put our own mental health on the back burner, and that is going to snowball into a bigger crisis unless we can more easily navigate things like finding a therapist or getting support,” Oakes said in an email.

On the other hand, UC Berkeley School of Public Health, or SPH, continuing lecturer Charlotte Smith found that SPH has offered faculty “tremendous support” during the pandemic.

In particular, Smith said she has enjoyed social activities organized by SPH instructional designer Julie Moss. These activities include book chats, social hours and bingo games for SPH faculty, according to Moss.

“It’s become a common saying across SPH that while we aren’t all in the same boat, we’re all in the ‘same storm,’ and if there’s any silver lining it’s that it has brought us together in a unique way,” Moss said in an email.

In addition to faculty social activities, Smith added that a campus workshop on using bCourses features to discourage cheating was also a helpful tool. Smith, who has experienced issues with academic integrity in her course, said adherence to the honor code is “definitely different” online.

Smith said in lecture courses, students often do not turn their cameras on or engage in class discussions, which make it difficult for her to gauge their understanding of the course content.

“With that many students, I don’t get to know them,” Smith said. “I don’t get to see that look on their face to see if they’re understanding the material.”

Lindsay Choi, GSI and campus doctoral student in English, said with online learning, “political turmoil,” natural disasters and coronavirus-related concerns, they also worry about their students, especially regarding their physical well-being and domestic situations.

Choi said they find it more difficult to communicate with their students and make sure everyone is “on the same page” during online learning.

“I have noticed that it’s harder to rest, and to compartmentalize tasks — being online and working from home has the attendant problem of dissolving spatial boundaries of work,” Choi said in an email.

Choi added that they feel “permanently available” to their work.

Oakes too has experienced issues working from home, where she teaches from a room next to a bathroom and has had to mute her microphone whenever someone flushes the toilet or uses the shower.

“I try to laugh about it as much as I can because we’re all in it together,” Oakes said.

Contact Anishi Patel at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anishipatel.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article’s headline may have implied all instructors mentioned are grappling with their mental health. In fact, only some are.