Caroline Sewell

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Last week — March 11 — marked the one year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, which brought about great change for the students, faculty and staff at Winthrop University.

Last March, most colleges in the U.S., including Winthrop, made the decision to send their students home and switch to online learning because of the pandemic.

This presented many challenges for educators, because many had never before taught classes online.

What initially started as two-weeks of virtual learning at Winthrop, eventually became the policy for the rest of the spring 2020 semester.

“First it was just going to be two weeks, right, so I was like ‘oh we can do this’ and then when it went to the rest of the semester. It definitely has changed how I wanted it to be for students,” said Cassie Bell, an instructor of biology at Winthrop.

Two semesters later, many classes are still being held primarily virtually, with many others being conducted partially online.

“Last (fall) semester was pretty rough,” said Bell, who was a guest on the Palmetto Report podcast to discuss her experience teaching during the pandemic.

She said she has had to find new ways to teach over the past year.

“Last fall we got access to Zoom a few days before classes started. So, most of us faculty did not even know really how to use it,” said Bell, who has taught at Winthrop for more than 17 years.

“The virtual aspect, which was always there, it was not new just because of COVID. We just didn’t use it. (It) has been helpful in some ways, being able to be with people that aren’t on campus, so that’s been a positive.” 

Bell’s experience is common among the faculty, who have said the changes due to the pandemic have been challenging.

“Well I’m not the youngest professor here at Winthrop, so it has been a challenge trying to adjust to all the technology,” said Christopher Van Aller, a professor in Winthrop’s department of political science. “I’m just not the person who can be at my computer all day.”

However, both Van Aller and Bell say things have improved.

“It’s been pretty challenging, but now I have the technology down more and I think I’m adapting okay,” said Van Aller.

“Now I feel a lot better, but having several classes that I had to (move online) was rough,” said Bell. “So, now I feel pretty good, I have a good base of all the things I teach now, but getting there was pretty tough.”

* Trey Brownlee contributed to this report.