How COVID-19 changed the way we teach

Faculty members say they’ve had to adapt to a reshaped landscape.
By Dawn Wotapka

For years, universities have slowly been adding online courses and offerings. The COVID-19 pandemic forced them to speed things along.

Students "know we have the technology" to offer classes online, said Susan Galbreath, CPA, Ph.D., a professor of accounting at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. "What has changed is the leverage that students have in what they expect to be available to them."

Now, more than ever, students want the option of what's been dubbed "asynchronous" learning: being in person or online at a set time, watching lectures from afar or viewing a recording at their convenience. This digital revolution has also brought changes to office-hour formats, student-teacher communication, testing, and clubs. Higher education "has changed permanently," Galbreath said. Five accounting faculty members reflect on the changes, both positive and negative, that they've seen:

Accessible opportunity

Higher education is now more accessible to those who may not have been able to make a set in-person meeting time. Offering multiple attendance options can allow more nontraditional students — such as those who work full time or who care for other family members — to attend school, said Katie Landgraf, Ph.D., an assistant professor of accounting at the University of Hawaii–West Oahu. "They're working a lot of hours, so they're fitting in school at night," she said

In Landgraf's case, she can also teach students on other islands who previously couldn't attend in person without a ferry trip or flight. Now, they get the same lectures as "those who show up in person," she said.

Knowing that she provides lecture and classroom materials electronically, Kimberly Tribou, Ph.D., assistant professor of accounting at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, relaxed her attendance requirement. In the past, attendance was required and logged. In the post-pandemic world, students can miss an in-person lecture or two if, say, they don't feel well and can view the class materials at their convenience. There's just one rule: "I ask that they pay me the same courtesy they would their supervisor and email me as soon as they know they are not feeling well enough to attend class," she said.

But growing pains remain. Some professors — and students — think that some learning is done better in person. "Our university-degree seeking students prefer live interaction as part of the learning experience over the convenience of pre-recorded classes," said James Connor, dean of the school of business and information technology at San Francisco Bay University.

For his online classes, Connor had to make several changes. He switched from paper handouts to PDFs and rarely uses his school's photocopier anymore. He uses the whiteboard less in favor of examples that can be found on the internet and switched from paper to electronic books, he said.

Drop-in office hours go virtual

Communication has also gone digital. For years, faculty set aside time where students could drop in for extra help or conversation, offering both sides a better chance to know one another. But office hours aren't always held at the best times for students, particularly for those who have another class during those times, who have to work, or who are caring for family members. Now, however, communication is more electronic and, in some cases, immediate, Galbreath said. "Before, students were conditioned to come to our office, and we were conditioned for it to be that way," she said. "Now we more quickly resolve things through email, Zoom, or a phone call."

Tribou, who had just become a faculty member when the pandemic started, said she now allows students to set up virtual meetings if they cannot meet during her regular set times. She also offers last-minute help prior to tests. "This semester, I have offered extra Zoom office hours the evening before examinations," she said.

For Andrew Griffith, CPA, DBA, associate professor of accounting at Iona University in New Rochelle, N.Y., the change is welcome. He now uses, a free service integrated with his calendar, to reduce back-and-forth messages to set up a mutually agreeable time. "All my students have to do is use the link that I gave them in my course outline to schedule an individualized meeting with me via Zoom," he said. "I like this approach better than traditional office hours because I can literally be anywhere that my mobile phone receives a signal and still meet with my students." 

The good and bad of online exams

During the pandemic, quizzes and exams went online, and this seems here to stay — even for in-person classes, educators report. Online tests are generally easier to grade and sometimes students can receive scores automatically. Unfortunately, digital tests may increase the risk of cheating, but academics are working to combat this. "The design of tests has changed from an emphasis on fact-checking to more critical thinking and knowledge synthesis questions because synthesis questions are harder to plagiarize," Connor said.

Galbreath tries to make her tests comprehensive with a set time limit "to reduce opportunities for cheating," she said.

Clubs and societies feel the changes

As the availability of digital classes explodes, early indications are that fewer students attend academic clubs and societies in person, robbing them of traditional socialization with like-minded peers and networking. Landgraf leads a campus accounting club that has seen attendance drop in the post-COVID world. "The members that are part of them are just not as active as they used to be," she said. "That has been the biggest surprise that will change not only accounting but how people learn about accounting."

Connor expects the most popular clubs to survive with the incorporation of online meetings, but others will wither away. Students will broaden their networks in person and digitally, but networking based on social media "may not be as lifelong" as in the past, he said.

Online as the new tradition

The COVID-19 pandemic forced colleges and universities to embrace the digital age, and educators know there is no going back. "Online is definitely what students want, and we have to accommodate," Landgraf said. "If we don't, students know that they have options, and they will go somewhere else."

Smart educators understand there is not a one-size-fits-all delivery method. "Students want the two-way learning and the social connections they gain from attending traditional face-to-face classes, but they also want the flexibility that remote and hybrid learning options provide," Tribou said.

— Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Georgia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at

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