Annenberg Radio

Annenberg faculty members speak on their experiences with online learning

Over one year after the university transitioned to online learning, students, faculty, and staff have all had plenty of time to reflect on the Zoom experience. Three Annenberg faculty members share their takeaways from the virtual school year.

Years ago, the so-called “Dean of counterculture comedians” George Carlin had a bit about Oxymorons…

“A few more oxymorons… mandatory option, mutual differences, non-dairy creamer…”

What about… online learning? For the past ten years, Neil Teixeira has helped to develop online master’s degree programs for the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School. If anyone was prepared for a mass transition to online learning, it was him. Despite his expertise and role as the Director of Online learning for Annenberg, even he couldn’t have predicted how such an involved community would adapt to the online learning platform.

“I didn’t really think that there would be a moment where USC became fully online virtual school. It just wasn’t really part of the DNA of USC, given how vibrant our campus life is to transition that way, the pandemic made that a necessity. That’s something that I would say that students, faculty and staff alike, the greatest challenge we faced in this pandemic has been feelings of isolation, feelings of being apart from our normal people.”

But Teixeira believes that there are some positive takeaways from the year online.

“Faculty, students, staff have seen a new way of doing business. And for the vast majority, they’ve seen how effective it can be. And this includes students with some learning disabilities, online learning is actually a godsend that this technology media platform can provide better results for them than traditional face to face learning.”

We spoke to Annenberg Professor Geoffrey Cowan to hear about his experience teaching online. Despite his positive perspective, Cowan says that there are certain aspects to in person teaching that cannot be replicated on Zoom.

“I personally work quite hard at trying to make it a great experience for students. I think there are some benefits, but I think that in the end they’re outweighed by the fact that students just aren’t as engaged no matter what the class is. You don’t have the same connectedness or immediacy.”

Professor Hernan Galperin, whose expertise and studies focus on digital inequality, shares similar sentiments.

“I would say that one of the main challenges online is, it’s very difficult to get proper feedback. All the research shows that it’s much better when students learn in different... in other ways, not just hearing a professor lecture. So interactivity and feedback are crucial when you’re trying to do that, but that is a challenge in an online environment.”

While many members of the university’s community eagerly await a return to campus life, Neil Teixeira’s role as the director of online learning means he must remain invested in the medium. In his eyes, the future of online learning is bright, and has potential to offer vast opportunities for a greater range of students.

“It’s certainly not as good as it will get. Online learning is continuously evolving and it’s really just a component of learning. And for some students, and I’m thinking that there are students whose physical location for their unique characteristics, they may not be able to engage in face to face traditional residential education at USC, but online makes a lot of sense for them. I think the silver lining in all of this is that we have learned how much we can adapt, we have learned how resilient we are as a people and as Trojans, as a community at Annenberg of scholars, students, staff.”

Whether it was awfully amazing or amazingly awful, we’ve all found a way to make the last year of Zoom university work. We can all look forward to a return to the excitement and energy of on-campus life in the fall.

For Annenberg Media, I’m Chloe Lewis.