Published February 1, 2021
2020 will change the nature of teaching and learning forever. As always, UBIT is committed to supporting our UB community in the best ways we know how.
For us, 2020 was about making rapid transitions to provide flexible technology to keep UB running—even if we weren’t on campus.
We’ve also been working hard to stay in touch with our customers during 2020. You’ve helped us to understand your challenges, assess our efforts to support you, and learn how we can provide better support in the future.
In 2020 it became more important than ever to understand the challenges facing our faculty, staff and students. We surveyed students and faculty throughout 2020, asking about their experiences teaching and learning remotely. We also gathered groups of customers to give anecdotal accounts of their experience.
Here’s what we learned.
In March 2020, over 30% of faculty who responded to a survey said they were uncomfortable teaching remotely.
Comfort and confidence are key. Teaching to engage students in the classroom requires a high cognitive load and acute communication skills, both of which are challenged in a virtual setting.
Dr. Katharine Bartelo, Graduate Academic Coordinator with UB’s Department of Electrical Engineering, spoke with UBIT about her experience teaching in 2020.
“I am not a techy person,” Bartelo told UBIT. “To concentrate on teaching, I need to be relaxed.”
To develop confidence with remote teaching, Bartelo attended in-person trainings hosted by CEI and UBIT. “One of the instructors stood next to me and asked me what I needed. I was able to go to my first class with a "cheat sheet" for UB Learns and the teaching stations.”
The willingness of UB’s faculty to seek out the support they needed was a common theme. Dr. Karyn St. George is Administrative Director for UB Honors College, and an adjunct instructor.
“I’m a visual learner, so videos are great,” St. George said. She searched online for videos about Panopto before the Fall semester, and attended an open-house classroom training session.
St. George stressed the importance of trial and error to build confidence. “The most useful part of the training was when they invited us up to try out [running Zoom in a UB classroom],” St. George said.
Dr. Prasad Balkundi teaches classes on organizational behavior for UB’s School of Management. “I learned the hard way,” he told UBIT.
After facing challenges with hybrid instruction, Balkundi transitioned his class of roughly 300 students to an online format—and completely reimagined the way he teaches in the process.
“I can’t sit while teaching,” Balkundi told UBIT on a Zoom call from his basement, where, with the help of UB Libraries’ Omar Brown, and taking inspiration from Harvard University and video game streamers on Twitch.tv, he set up his own remote teaching studio, complete with green screen and a large monitor where he could see the chat and encourage participation.
As someone who embraces technology for teaching, Balkundi found a flexible approach that allows him to teach his way. While not every instructor may go to these lengths, many faculty members expressed an understanding that technology will become more important to learning.
“This generation wants to be entertained,” said Katheryn Bartelo. “My instinct is to say, ‘just listen to what I have to say—this is important!’ But it’s not the way of the future. There are going to be gifted people who can teach with technology, and really pop. That’s the way of the future.”
The outcome: UB faculty made incredible strides in 2020. In a fall survey, the number of faculty respondents who said they were uncomfortable with remote teaching had fallen by over half, to 16%.
In 2020, UBIT diversified and reorganized its support services for faculty, from new videos demonstrating conferencing capabilities in the classroom to the new Teach Anywhere website, a resource curating the best information for instructors from all over campus.
The conventional wisdom is that students are “digital natives” who intuitively understand technology. Yet, when surveyed in March 2020, fewer than half of UB students (44%) said they were comfortable with remote learning.
For some students, access to adequate technology was an issue; around 10% of students reported subpar internet speeds at home, and about 5% told us their devices weren’t good enough for online learning.
“Although I do have a laptop, the camera is broken, and all my classes require the camera for Zoom meetings and Respondus,” said one student who took advantage a program from SUNY to loan laptops to students in need.
“I have an old laptop that takes too much time to start or run an application,” another student told UBIT, “and it's hard for me to buy a new laptop because of financial circumstances I encountered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Other environmental factors adversely affected students’ confidence in learning online too. In UBIT’s annual Student Experience Survey, of the nearly 1,500 students who responded:
“Students struggle with this stuff sometimes,” Katharine Bartelo told UBIT. “Even more so when they’re also TAs, and instructors are expecting them to take the lead with the technical aspects of their classes.”
“This is a level playing field issue,” said J. Brice Bible, UB Vice President/Chief Information Officer. “We don’t have different quality chairs in the classroom, and likewise students with inadequate devices shouldn’t be at a disadvantage. Quality devices and support for students are critical to the mission of higher education.”
The outcome: students reported marked improvement over the course of 2020. By the fall semester, over 70% of student survey respondents reported being comfortable with learning online.
UBIT continues to better understand factors affecting access to learning remotely. VPCIO Bible is currently working with President Tripathi and others to advocate for more equitable access, particularly to high-speed broadband, for students and others in the Buffalo area.
Regardless your teaching or learning style, or comfort with technology, UBIT wants to help make the work of teaching and learning easier and more fruitful.
Instructors can visit our teaching technology service guides for more information about resources available to them. Students can visit buffalo.edu/ubit/students for a complete guide to UB technology.
Everyone can find help with UB technology by visiting buffalo.edu/ubit/help, or by calling 716-645-3542.