College professor: Many of us are trying to address student stress



Professor adjusted assignments, demands in recognition of challenges

I wrote this week about complaints from some college students that professors were piling on the assignments and work in these last days before finals.

Debbie Palmer, associate professor of psychology at Georgia Southwestern State University, reached out about that comment. She said many professors recognized the burden on students when college campuses closed due to the pandemic and all their classes shifted online. Instructors modified their instruction and their demands to address the challenges their students faced, she said.

I asked her to share her efforts to adjust to the struggles of her students during the coronavirus pandemic. (For instance, a major problem today and yesterday has been widespread internet outages in north Georgia, including Woodstock and Canton.)

Palmer is writing as an individual and not as a representative of the university.

By Debbie Palmer

Transitioning our face-to-face courses to an online format on March 30 caused concerns for many people at Georgia Southwestern State University, as well as across the nation.

Some of our students had to find new living arrangements, deal with job losses, cope with abrupt ends to athletic seasons, canceled internships and practicums, and many other changes. Faculty and staff members were worried about students’ health and well-being, living conditions, and access to the technological resources required to complete online learning. Additionally, we were also dealing with our everyday lives being upended.

I reached out to my students to ask them how they were doing and encouraged them to tell me how they were really doing, and the responses were consistent. They were in a state of shock over the multitude of changes that had happened in such a short time. They expressed worries about how they were going to manage their work, while lamenting losses like commencement and sorority activities. Many shared how they were now taking care of family members of a variety of ages, working multiple jobs to help make ends meet, and mourning separation from friends.

Throughout the last month, I have kept in frequent contact with my students, and many are telling me they are trying to adjust to a fully online education, while communicating poignant accounts of their fears about family members stricken with COVID-19, including some who have perished.

Because of the circumstance, I chose to do “asynchronous” learning, which allowed students to log in to GeorgiaVIEW, the online learning management system, and access course materials at their own pace, any time of the day or night. I supplemented my PowerPoint files with audio files of me explaining concepts, added brief written participation and engagement activities to have students contribute one thought or example for a specific topic for each date we previously were to be in classes.

I extended most deadlines for exams, quizzes, and minor assignments until the last day of the semester, while encouraging the students to complete their work earlier if possible. I converted exams to provide multiple attempts, with collaboration between students an option, and extended the time allowed to complete each attempt.

In my upper-division Behavior Modification course, I eliminated a major project because it required each student to work with another person to change a behavior using learning principles and track the progression for half of the semester. The guidelines for social distancing made the project no longer feasible.

To be accessible, I moved my office hours to include late evening times, and obtained a Google Voice number to allow students to call or text me when needed. I incorporated video conferencing software usage into my courses for the optional exam review sessions and recorded those to permit student unable to participate in real time to access those at their convenience.

My students have impressed me with their perseverance, dedication to their educations and families, and thoughtfulness. I hope the final weeks of our semester end on a positive note and we can safely return to the classroom and interact in person soon.