A common misconception about online education is that it doesn’t stack up to face-to-face instruction. But after nearly a year of teaching and learning in hybrid and online formats due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students and faculty at the College of Charleston say these modes of instruction can be just as engaging, challenging and rewarding as traditional instruction methods.

“Online education offers students a chance to engage with their professors and classmates in a new way,” says Suzanne Austin, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “We worked hard over the summer to reconstruct in-person to online classes that are consistently challenging and engaging and to maintain the community feeling that the College is known for.”

As a result, for the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, students have been given a choice of asynchronous, synchronous and hybrid classes, as detailed here:

  • Asynchronous online classes – Classes are delivered entirely online through OAKS using recorded content and other tools, and there are no scheduled days when classes meet. With asynchronous online classes, students access course material and complete assignments at their own pace. For example, in the Visual and Performing Arts Education class, students learned how to create virtual “bitmoji” classrooms with cartoon avatars, a methodology that is being used in classrooms across the country.
  • Synchronous online classes – Students attend class at the same time(s) each week through Zoom and other online platforms. The synchronous format is best for courses that require group participation. For example, in the Script Analysis theater course, guest speakers addressed the class each week.
  • Hybrid classes – With a mix of in-person, on-campus instruction and remote learning, hybrid classes are great for the hands-on learning required of science labs, studio art classes and music courses. For example, in the Biology of Fishes class, students socially distanced by the water at the College’s Grice Marine Lab.

In March, when the pandemic prompted the College to transition to online education, then–interim Provost Frances Welch – who has since returned to her post as dean of the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance – formed task forces to work with an online education steering committee to address the transition. Since then, Silvia Rodriguez Sabater, professor of Hispanic studies and faculty coordinator of online education, has been working with colleagues to ensure faculty are well trained and offering quality online courses. But online education isn’t new to CofC: The College began offering online classes in 2013 and has gradually increased the offerings to give students flexibility in their studies.

“Teaching online is just as effective, if not more, as traditional classes,” says Sabater. “When you teach online you have to think more deliberately about what you are doing and how you are doing it as a teacher.”

Lancie Affonso ’96, Honors College faculty fellow and director of the Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community, encourages students not to think about how classes were before the pandemic, but to use an entrepreneurial mindset to create new opportunities for themselves within these new online learning environments.

“In many ways I’m trying to recreate the experiences I had as an undergraduate at the College of Charleston, which were one-on-one discussions with faculty, small class sizes and meaningful interactions that formed lifelong bonds with fellow students and faculty mentors as part of an engaged community of citizen-scholars,” says Affonso.

Freshman Honors College student Brandon Alston is a great example of a student who has worked to embrace the changes and make the most of the semester. As a computing in the arts major with a theater concentration, Alston enrolled this fall in a combination of online and in-person classes. As an incoming freshman, he was initially concerned that online education would prevent him from being fully engaged with the College experience – but, with Affonso’s help, he has his “hands in every bucket” as a student ambassador for Critical Conversations and board member on the Black Student Union.

Alston also has come to appreciate the benefits of online learning, like having regular talks from guest speakers via Zoom and other online platforms.

“In my Script Analysis class, we had guest speakers from different aspects of the industry talk to the class about their process,” Alston says of his online synchronous class. “Every week we heard new perspectives from professionals in the business, like directors, lighting designers and actors. These discussions gave us a glimpse into this world that we’re all hoping to enter one day.”

Margaret Hagood, professor of elementary and middle grade literacies, has been teaching for 19 years and says she has always used technology, but in the last 10 years, all her content has been available online, so students have the ability to work synchronously or asynchronously to complete their assignments.

“Students are busy. My class is one of many that they have to take, along with juggling jobs and clubs and families. Making sure that content is available to them 24 hours a day and allowing them to work at their own pace has been a part of the way I’ve taught for years,” she says. “I feel closer to my students this semester than I ever have, and I form pretty close bonds with students. Many of them I’ve never met face to face – it’s just been in this online space.”

And, given that K-12 teachers are increasingly using digital platforms to teach and engage students, Hagood says being adept at online learning is only strengthening education majors for their future roles as educators both online and in the classroom.

“These students are being provided a unique opportunity to learn in that space and then be able to propel themselves into the job market being fully aware, capable and ready to do that work,” she says. “I feel very confident in our students who will spend the spring teaching in local schools during their clinical practice. They know exactly what they need to do, whether they are teaching face to face or online. They are ready.”

As CofC heads into its 251st year, professors and students offer the following tips on how to be successful in online education:

Tips from faculty:

  • Be organized. “Spread the work out throughout the week,” says Devon Hanahan, senior instructor of Hispanic studies.
  • “Make use of all the technology available,” says Kameelah Martin, director of African American studies.
  • Communication with professors is really important. “Never send me an email to say, ‘I’m sorry for contacting you.’ I’m delighted to be contacted by a student,” says teacher education professor Margaret Hagood.
  • Be active learners. “A really important part of the puzzle is for students to spend time focusing on their own engagement and what their role is in becoming an active learner in the class,” says Beth Goodier, associate professor of communication.

Tips from students:

  • “I use journals and write everything down by hand to keep track of my responsibilities,” says Honors College student Brandon Alston.
  • “Take it upon yourself to reach out to professors about anything you’re struggling with or issues you’re having – email, go to office hours, whatever you need to do,” says Dylan Outlaw, a freshman majoring in international studies.
  • “Manage your time carefully,” says Hunter Bergmann, a senior double-majoring in biology and Spanish.
  • “Go to a neutral location for Zoom classes, like the library, where there are less distractions,” says Misha Pekar, a senior double-majoring in piano performance and arts management.

To explore the different methods of online education and sample an asynchronous online course through OAKS, the College’s learning management system, please use this form to request access and login credentials. Once the request is received, credentials will be sent through email within 48 hours.