Online Classes Are Good for Older Professors



On the first Hawaiian Shirt Thursday, the writer’s Latin professor boosted morale by having everyonewear print shirts and use fun virtual backgrounds.


Many of our professors are boomers. That’s not an insult, just a fact: It takes years to earn a degree and even more to become tenured at a university. Often, this is a good thing, since we as young students can learn from their decades of knowledge and research in their fields. Sometimes, however, their age shows, such as when they type in “Google” into a Google search bar, or they can’t figure out how to use a projector.

Now, some professors’ ages are showing even more with online classes, and it can be a hindrance to our learning. Those same professors who would not accept emailed assignments are now forced to teach their entire class online, or at least post asynchronous activities to stand in for real class time (which we’re still paying for).

Your younger professors are probably more adept at using online platforms like Zoom, Hangouts or WebEx. Maybe you have small group discussions via Zoom’s Breakout Rooms or give presentations through Screen Share.

One of my classes with a young lecturer has shifted almost seamlessly to online discussion on Zoom — he follows us on Twitter and retweets our classics memes, uses a virtual background of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and uses the Breakout function just as he would place us into groups during class.

Another class with an older professor was originally supposed to be held over email, with all the students sending her Word documents for every class, three times a week. She would compile our responses into one document and email it out again. She was unsure how to use video calling, but I wasn’t sure how well we would learn over email alone.

A week later, triumphant, she emailed us again with a link to Google Hangouts. In that first meeting, she told us she realized her way of hosting class would not be feasible, and she would try as hard as she could to get our class to work out online. Our class was her guinea pig; there are only five students, so it was one of the easiest classes to change from face-to-face to online.

So far, most of our classes have gone without technical difficulties; she only had to call IT twice about fixing the problems she’s experiencing, including closing the browser window rather than a tab and opening Hangouts in two tabs at once so there’s feedback. Although this might seem annoying or prohibitive to learning anything in the class, it isn’t, or not as much as you’d expect. Sure, it’s hard to explain some of these features of video calls, but we are not behind in class, and we are helping her to learn technology, something which would not have happened under normal circumstances. One of my favorite parts of the day is going to her class and seeing her and my classmates; the tech issues are an expected intrusion.

I’m extremely pleased with how well she (and our class) has adapted. For a professor who has been relatively set in her ways since the 1980s, the fact that my class is excelling is a testament to how online classes in this unusual time have changed our learning (and her teaching) for the better. She learns how to use Google Hangouts; we learn our scheduled lessons from her.

Yes, online classes might suck. No one wants to attend “Da Crib University”; we’re paying tuition to go to Fordham. But the next time you complain about your professor not being able to work a simple function on their computer, remember that this is a learning experience, even more so for them than for us. They’re the same age as my grandma who checks her email once a month, the same age as my uncle who signs off every text message like it’s a greeting card.

These professors trying to use videoconferencing for the first time might be a decade or two late to the internet game, but at least they’re here, and they’re trying. They didn’t want to be in this position, just the same as you. Rather than being bitter and subtweeting your professor on your Twitter account that they’ll never find, you can continue to learn the usual information and also teach these email-averse professors a necessary skill, and that’s a good thing.