With the partial or complete switch to online classes, some students have noticed professors teaching past the scheduled class end-time more frequently or changing instruction modes.
According to a release from Clarence Lang — the dean of the College of the Liberal Arts — Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas Jones received complaints of professors switching from in-person to online instruction without consulting their unit directors or changing the mode in LionPATH.
In the release — which was sent to all faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students in the College of the Liberal Arts on Aug. 25 — Lang reminded professors they should consider how to continue a course’s objectives if they feel the need to switch instruction mode.
Lang said in the release that making these changes without consultation or adjusting the information in LionPATH presents challenges for students.
“As you can imagine, this creates difficulties for our students who are expecting to not only take the courses in which they have enrolled, but also take them in the manner in which they were offered,” Lang said in the release. “These decisions also spark outrage among parents, and they invite university intervention into our college's operations and a micromanagement of our faculty affairs.”
Lang also reminded professors to wear masks while teaching in-person courses and to enforce the habit among students as well.
Director of strategic communications in the College of the Liberal Arts Bill Hessert said via email that the college has since addressed the issue.
“The college was made aware of a possible scheduling issue with one of its courses, which we have subsequently investigated and resolved,” Hessert said.
Jadrian Wooten, an associate teaching professor of economics, said he filed a similar complaint on Aug. 29 after hearing that one of his students’ professors attempted to teach a Monday, Wednesday, Friday course only on Monday and Wednesday, adding 25 minutes onto the Monday and Wednesday class times.
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Wooten said he found out about this occurrence after the student apologized to him for being late to class as a result of the previous one running 25 minutes longer than scheduled. Wooten’s complaint was addressed by the college the following day, he said.
According to Wooten, Penn State students on Reddit have also made posts saying they have had professors teach material too quickly or continue instruction past the scheduled class time, namely during a Zoom-based course.
Wooten said he believes teaching past scheduled class time is an issue in a normal semester, but might be unintentionally heightened by an online instruction mode.
“Online, I think the problem is that we assume we can take another couple minutes [to finish the lesson],” Wooten said. “At least on campus, we know you have to go to another class, and a lot of faculty now look at the time between classes and say ‘Oh, it’s not a big deal. You’re just on your laptop.’”
With online classes, however, Wooten said the breaks in between may be even more important than usual.
Despite not necessarily having to walk to another class, Wooten said students rely on the time between their Zoom calls to get food, use the restroom or check on siblings if they are learning from home this semester.
“We’re all at the point where we’ve had these long days where we’ve sat on Zoom all day long,” Wooten said. “Those 15 minute gaps are very important to just take your headphones out, close your eyes for a little bit, not look at the screen. All these things that talk about screen fatigue, that stuff is real.”
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Wooten added that although the instance he filed a complaint for was likely uncommon, professors teaching past class time for even a couple of minutes adds up in a students’ day — particularly if several of their professors do it consistently.
According to Wooten, teaching past class time in person is also a bigger issue this semester because professors need extra time to set up their Zoom calls for those attending an in-person course remotely.
He said professors are also encouraged to clean the podium, keyboard and any other teaching space they might use prior to starting class, which might take additional time.
Wooten said he found the issue of professors switching instruction mode without consultation or updating LionPATH to be unfair to students, seeing as they could have saved money by living and learning at home had they known their classes would be online from the beginning.
He also said he found it unusual that professors were doing this, because the proper procedure to change instruction mode is relatively straightforward, and Penn State was transparent about it.
“The university told us from the beginning that if we didn’t want to teach in person, we didn’t have to teach in person,” Wooten said.
Jonathan Mirchandani said he has experienced a class switch from in-person to online just before the semester started, as well as a few class periods extending approximately 20 minutes past the scheduled instruction time.
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According to Mirchandani (senior-security risk analysis), he was scheduled to have two in-person classes as of the deadline that Penn State said instruction modes had to be finalized in LionPATH.
Three days before the semester started, however, the professor sent the class an email explaining instruction would take place virtually until later in the semester, when only a small, rotating group of students would be allowed to attend class in person one day a week.
Mirchandani said this switch did not affect him significantly, seeing as he still has one in-person class, but he was confused as to why the course is still registered as in person in LionPATH even though the in-person component will not take effect until later.
“It makes me a little upset because I feel like they probably just want us to feel like we’re paying for in-person classes, but we’re really not getting in-person classes,” Mirchandani said.
When one of his professors taught past class time, Mirchandani said the students were told they could leave the Zoom call if needed.
Despite this, Mirchandani said having a few classes last longer than scheduled made paying attention more difficult.
“Once you go past that normal allotted time, we’re all going to stop paying attention, regardless of how interesting and funny you might be,” Mirchandani said. “We’re all just going to zone out on our phones.”
He also said even though the class extension did not affect his schedule on those days, it likely impacted those of other students who had other classes to attend immediately afterward.
Similarly, Sydney Boyer said she has experienced a couple of instances of class continuing for about 20 minutes after the scheduled time.
Although it has not affected her schedule yet, she said she felt bad for the students who had other classes to attend.
Boyer (freshman-art education) said the professor did not realize they had continued past class time and stopped as soon as they realized.
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“It’s easier to lose track of time just being on a giant Zoom call,” Boyer said.
She said she also had one of her two in-person classes transition to an entirely online format last week, but that her professor informed the students of the change and updated LionPATH accordingly.
“I was disappointed that another one of my classes was online, but I understand the reason for it,” Boyer said. “It would have been nice to have more of a warning than just one day.”
According to Wooten, there are likely more instances of professors changing aspects of their classes that go unnoticed because students often do not say anything about what they are experiencing.
He added that since the teaching faculty handbook is lengthy, professors might not be aware that something they are doing is against the rules.
Wooten encouraged students to speak out if a professor’s actions seem unusual and that students’ identities can be protected throughout the reporting process.
“If a student never says anything, then the faculty keep doing it even though they’re not supposed to be doing it,” Wooten said. “I’m willing to say something, but students should also feel comfortable.”
If a student wants to consult with someone about a potential rule violation, Wooten said they can contact the director of undergraduate studies in the college the class and professor fall under, or fill out the violation form recently created by the Faculty Senate Committee on Student Life for such reports.