Learning Through a Pandemic: A View Inside One Schieffer College Classroom

A photo of a student in Carrie Moore's Advanced Speaking Class delivering a speech at the front of the classroom while wearing a face shield.After 10 years of teaching in the Schieffer College, instructor Carrie Moore says teaching her Advanced Public Speaking course this fall is like being the choreographer, director, producer and cinematographer of an event every time she steps into her classroom. That’s because some of her students are learning from Moore in the physical classroom, while others are joining class via video conferencing software. In a 50-minute class, Moore typically flips between three different camera angles, advances a PowerPoint presentation, engages online students via Zoom, talks with in-person students, ensures in-person students engage with or at least see the online students, changes Zoom perspectives from showing all students to just one, and then records student speeches. There are many moving parts.

“It feels like I am producing and directing a TV series four times a day, three days a week!” Moore says.

All of the protocols Moore has established in her classroom this semester are with safety in mind. In accordance with university guidelines, in-person students must sit at least six feet apart and are required to wear face coverings during class. When it’s time for students to present their speeches, Moore instructs the in-person students to wear a face shield rather than a mask. Moore says this practice allows the audience to fully see the speaker’s nonverbal facial expressiveness and it is easier for the speaker to articulate in a face shield rather than a mask. However, the face shield can present challenges for students, requiring them to project their voices which can cause an echo for the speaker. “Regardless, my in-person students are learning through the experience – growing and improving with each speech. This semester truly is about grace for all of us,” Moore says.

The students joining class via Zoom have a number of best practices to think through before giving their speeches virtually, guidelines their in-person classmates do not have to think about in the classroom space. Moore asks the online students to stand while delivering their speeches, pay attention to the angle of their web cameras and use good lighting. She asks the online students to remain still, so as not to distract the rest of the class from the public speaker.

“I think a challenge online students face is staying focused during class. There are so many distractions – people, pets, things at home, extra internet tabs open, etc. And I think they long to be included; to feel that they are not missing out. I strive to simulate eye contact with online students, to know their names and to ask questions directly to my ‘online friends,’” Moore says.

Student Louise Johnston delivers a speech to her classmates via Zoom.

Student Louise Johnston delivers a speech to her classmates via Zoom.

Louise Johnston, a junior communication studies major who has joined class both in person and online this semester, praises Instructor Moore for being one of her most accommodating professors. “She found out how to quickly adjust and did not miss a beat,” Johnston says. “It is for sure different taking classes online, but I do not mind it with professors like Instructor Moore because she is always willing to work with us students and make our experience still the best one possible.”

In preparation for the semester on campus, Moore said once she found out what technology changes TCU made to the classrooms, she experimented with the equipment on her own time prior to classes starting. “I tried to think about my audience and how to make them feel engaged and included.”

Katherine Matamoros, a student in Moore’s class, is enrolled in distance learning this semester. She said she was a little fearful about spending the entire semester online, but Matamoros says Moore has made her experience more comfortable. “She has an incredible job with the hybrid classroom. She’s very attentive.”

The junior communication studies major says Moore knows her by name and checks in on her. “It means so much that they really do care. They care about the success of the students. That means everything, especially when it’s such a hard time in our world and in education,” says Matamoros.

“I am so grateful for the choice to be back in the classroom or to teach online,” Moore says. “For me, I feel comfortable teaching in-person with the precautions and protocols in place. We – me and the students – are making it work so far.”