In Person or Online – From a Teacher’s Perspective

Jake Pease

When it comes to teaching this year at US, although there have been instances where everyone has been online, most of the time the majority of students and teachers have been in the building. There are some exceptions though, one of them being Dr. Boehnen, who has taught online for three quarters of the year before choosing to teach in-person after being vaccinated. I was able to ask Dr. Boehnen some questions regarding teaching online while most students were in school. Dr. Boehnen provides a unique experience to teaching and has the opportunity to share some interesting thoughts.

Although teaching, regardless of the means, is different this year compared to any other “normal” school year, being online while the students are in-person brings a whole new experience to teaching. During class, Dr. Boehnen was presented on a Smartboard, using Zoom to be able to hear and see students. For Dr. Boehnen, the lag time between a student speaking and responding was a hindrance, often making “the flow of conversation feel awkward.”

Student recognition was difficult with masks. To remember what little of the students’ faces he could see, Dr. Boehnen describes how he made flashcards using pictures from last year. He would then cover half the face until he could recognize them as he would in the “classroom.” Dr. Boehnen especially faced difficulty recognizing and seeing students in larger rooms, such as the Callow room. Because he could hardly recognize students in these rooms, he was left with educated guesses on who was speaking in class and who he had to address. This challenge unintentionally led to many funny moments and misunderstandings, a rare positive to the experience.

Another pro was one-on-one conferences, where students were able to screen share and edit documents while on Zoom. To Dr. Boehnen, Zoom provided a much better teaching alternative to a conference while social distancing. These conferences also helped Dr. Boehnen get to know students especially if they were mask-less.

Because he could only see a small portion of each student’s face, Dr. Boehnen had a unique experience in imagining what his students looked like.  Recalling the assembly on unconscious bias, Dr. Boehnen noted that when “a student was really achieving to a high standard in my class, I would think of him, at least unconsciously, as really big and tall.” The feeling seemed to be mutual, as students often imagined Dr. Boehnen as a tall and authoritative figure, much like his personality in class suggests; however, he is actually average height.

When comparing online to in-person classes, Dr. Boehnen believes that in-person teaching is much more effective, interesting, and fun. Dr. Boehnen compares teaching in-person to an actor on stage where he is able to interact with the “audience” and respond to the energy of the group as well. In person, he feels “more ‘present’ and part of a community now.” However, Dr. Boehnen believes we should keep online teaching. He describes Zoom as a “lifesaver” and an “important resource” for individual students. Zoom is great for teaching individually and in particular moments, but not for “main means of instruction”. At US, we are fortunate enough to be able to be in school and, despite any complications, able to fall back on Zoom. This provides both students and teachers great flexibility and helps teachers continuously teach and students continuously learn with little interruption.