Texas Tech University

Teaching Online: Thoughts From a Ph.D. Student

Hayden Bearden

September 28, 2020


Entering into a semester with many new challenges and unexpected opportunities for growth, some students and faculty in the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts (TCVPA) have shifted into an online modality. Though the future may be uncertain, many see this as an opportunity to explore the full and innovative capabilities of an online modality.

Collin Vorbeck (Ph.D. 2021) is in the midst of writing his dissertation for a Doctorate in Fine Arts. Also a Teaching Assistant, Collin is teaching a core class himself. Collin recently discussed the online modality and what it means to be at a university during such an uncertain time. "If I had one big takeaway," he began, "it's that we have a unique challenge to find a balance between having grace and understanding for our students, and upholding what it means to be a teacher."

Teaching in 2020 has new challenges as students and faculty witness striking events within their country. Collin suggests those teaching should approach their students understanding that they may very well be struggling with this drastic shift within their world. That being said, teachers should also try to maintain the integrity of the material they're teaching. It's about "finding that balance between too strict and too understanding," Collin continued.

Collin is teaching Introduction to Interdisciplinarity in the Arts, a core credit for TCVPA. He describes his approach to this modality: "I'm trying to be aware of my students' priorities, their anxieties. We can't expect our students to prioritize our class as the sole priority."

Collin also discussed the major, dramatic shift technology has instituted within all of our lives. Using his phone as an example, he explained, "We had this shift from being a tool for friends and family, to using it as an educational tool...There's some kind of mental impact there on the students." We live in an age where every single person on campus carries an incredibly powerful computer in their pocket, while also having a laptop or desktop computer back home. How we view those devices is rapidly changing as schools across the country require students to now use them for schooling. This means students are shifting into unprecedented amounts of screen time. How this may affect students is something which remains to be seen.

Within the online modality, Collin considers, "I think it's illustrating how necessary it will be to get back to normal." He also considers questions such as these: "How is it that we are assessing and addressing our students right now? How are we maintaining integrity in our teaching?" The balance between those two scales is something Collin hopes teachers across the board are considering: "We ethically owe it to [our students] to give our best."

Despite his concerns, Collin is hopeful for the future and reminds us this is temporary: "I think as we're treading water trying to keep the education moving forward, we have to remember what it's going to be like in the future. That's the light at the end of the tunnel."