Rowan College of South Jersey Professors Prepare for Different, Virtual Fall Semester

By: Arianna Adan, Writer / Follow South Jersey Higher Education Intern

Photo: Jon Bradley | Follow South Jersey

DEPTFORD TOWNSHIP, N.J. — A handful of professors from Rowan College of South Jersey have shared their thoughts on how they feel about the upcoming fall semester. Most courses at RCSJ will be delivered remotely, with only a handful of labs featuring in-person instruction this fall.

With the coronavirus pandemic looming large, college professors’ preparation for the fall will, in all likelihood, be fairly different from usual, but teaching the second half of the spring 2020 semester online provided some with an introduction to virtual instruction.

Bryan Butler is a professor in the Liberal Arts department at RCSJ. Butler’s happy that the university allowed instructors to choose between holding scheduled Zoom lectures and teaching courses entirely online. He realizes how difficult keeping students and faculty safe during a global pandemic would be – especially for a smaller institution like RCSJ.

“I can imagine that it would be extremely expensive for commuter colleges like RCSJ to create environments during the pandemic that would ensure sanitation and appropriate social distancing in a more traditional face-to-face class,” Butler said. “I have found that students generally enjoy the online environment, and I believe that for the foreseeable future, most commuter colleges will offer only online or streaming lecture courses, with an occasional lab for those courses that require it.”

Elsewhere, Lori Joyce is an English professor at RCSJ. Joyce is delighted and very well prepared to teach courses remotely during the upcoming fall semester. She has taken the proper steps to make sure her students will be equipped for the course through virtual learning.

Although she misses seeing the students at in-person lectures, Joyce understands the obstacles everyone is facing in these unprecedented times. With that in mind, she’s willing to put her best foot forward with her students. 

“Last spring, professors only had two weeks to prepare for the shift to online teaching. Since RCSJ announced in mid-July that fall classes will be taught online, faculty have had all summer to prepare their classes,” Joyce said. “I’ve taken several training sessions that offered tips for online classroom techniques such as course design, Zoom sessions, polls, and discussions. I will really miss the face-to-face classroom dynamic, but we have to adjust to the present situation.”

Elizabeth Rantuccio is an adjunct professor in RCSJ’s Liberal Arts Department. Rantuccio obviously has lots of experience with in-person lectures, but teaching fully remote courses made her feel worried at first. She never had to teach online classes until now, but she appreciates all the help and support the college has given her with learning how to set up lectures. She now feels confident in accessing all the technology to help provide her students with the best education for her sociology class in the fall. 

“I love teaching face-to-face and interacting with my students,” Rantuccio said. “When the news came that we had to transition to online, I was extremely anxious as I had never taught online before. However, the support that was provided from the various departments throughout the college, all the way up to the President, was most helpful.”

According to Rantuccio, the Department of Adjunct Faculty Development holds informative virtual meetings twice a week to provide support and resources to help its professors. Town Hall meetings are also held virtually, and these allow adjuncts to ask questions and stay informed about the university’s changes.

Robert Wells, a fellow adjunct professor within the Liberal Arts department, is excited to begin the fall semester, but not for remote online learning only. This makes it more difficult for him to tell if the students are properly understanding his lectures or not.

Engaging with online-only class instruction is very challenging to say the least, and it isn’t as helpful as in-person.

“I am eager to begin the fall semester, but disappointed that it’s going to be ‘all virtual’ with regard to instruction, with a few exceptions,” Wells said. “The college now has a Zoom license, and I’m scheduled to take some virtual classes on the basics of that system next week. I can finish a class knowing what I’ve accomplished and what I haven’t. With distance learning, or virtual classrooms, or whatever name we give this method, I cannot make critical adjustments. I simply talk into a screen, looking at an image of myself (rather than seeing the students) and I can only hope that the students are present, plugged in.

“I liken the whole phenomenon to a dog walking on its hind legs. It can be done, but not well.”

This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.