English professor André NarbonneEnglish professor André Narbonne finds that technology can foster or hinder student discussion.

English instructor redefining the online student

COVID-19 has forced faculty and students to change and adapt to new ways of teaching and learning. Among the greatest challenges is re-learning to teach due to the movement from in-person to online learning.

André Narbonne is a sessional professor in UWindsor’s English department. Currently, he is teaching three classes: Writing About Literature, Western Comic Drama, and Windsor’s Literary Culture.

When Dr. Narbonne first started teaching 18 years ago, no one had a computer with them in class. Students would take note by hand, and Narbonne would measure their learning through their involvement in the class. COVID-19 has changed that and is creating an entirely different definition of a student.

Narbonne calls his classes “kitchen classes.” Many of his students have their video and mic off, and the level of interaction has diminished to black blocks on the screens.

For the first-year courses Writing About Literature and Western Comic Drama, this doesn’t lower class interaction as he has students post their thoughts on the readings in the discussion board, fostering an environment for engagement even if student faces aren’t always visible.

For his third-year classes, where discussion is supposed to be most important, he finds the ease of technology reduces the interaction. Students, rather than getting involved in the class conversation, instead post their discussion board assignments during class.

Online learning has also created new learning opportunities, however, and Narbonne has been able to introduce a series of voices from Windsor’s publishing companies that can be accessed far more easily virtually than in person.

He suggests we need to refine our definition of an online student.

How does a professor create an atmosphere that fosters online discussions when students can choose how anonymous they would like to be? Why is it that students are expected to show up for class in person and be present when we don’t ask them to be online? How is an online student defined in a way that best supports teaching and learning?

These are all questions that Narbonne proposes, and answers have yet to become clear. They will be determined by how permanent the shift from in-person to online will be.

—Bridget Heuvel