'It's going to be interesting!'

Julie Bentley, associate professor of optics, also operates her own business consulting with private companies on lens design. This semester she is teaching a graduate-level lens design class to 30 undergraduate and graduate students and mentoring professors teaching two other optical design related classes.

Julie bentley Her comments on preparing for the transition to online classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

 “Certainly, we’ve had to figure out how to do lectures. The good news for me is I also have my own company, and I spend a lot of time on Zoom/Skype/WebEx and other platforms doing 30 min to hour-and-a-half long presentations at least once a week to teams of engineers across the world, sharing screens and getting feedback. So, I’m pretty confident I can do this with my students.”

“I think I’m going to miss the student interaction, though. So, I may set up one-on-one Zoom meetings, 15- to 20-minute check- in meetings with individual students to do a more targeted, “hey, how are you doing” session -- kind of like the interactions you might have in the hallways on campus.

Like her faculty colleagues, she sent a survey to students to find out what time zones they will be in and if they have Wifi and the software they need for remote learning. She also added an additional question that one of her colleagues sent out: “How are you doing? Are you freaked out? Why? Is there anything I can do to help?”

“And it was really interesting because everybody’s answers have been completely different, so I’ve been able to gain a lot of ideas about where the stress points are for the students.”

The stress points have ranged from “how are we going to do finals” to being rattled at having to move out of dorms, wondering about classes, while also worrying about being carriers and infecting family members when they get home.

So, Monday (March 16), even before the official announcement came out, Bentley had already told her students she would hold off resuming class work until next week, to give everyone a chance to “take a deep breath.” The main advice she is giving her students is to not get overly concerned over things like whether or not the homework due dates shown in the class syllabuses still apply.

“I’m telling them ‘Relax. Everybody is going to be way more accommodating now.’”

The biggest issue she has right now is trying to figure out how to conduct her 3:30 p.m. class, and still accommodate one student who is in Hawaii, which is a six-hour time difference, and another in Shanghai, a 12-hour time difference (making it 3:30 am in China).

“So, I may have to do two classes. I will record them, but I don’t think that would be fair for these two students in terms of having one on one interaction.”

Bentley is planning to do as much teaching as possible from home. However, she will have as many as four to six undergraduates staying with her, including her two daughters, their boyfriends, and a couple of other students.

“My biggest worry is that everybody is going to want bandwidth next week and there won’t be enough to go around. At which point, if I’m still allowed to drive, I’ll come to campus and broadcast from there.”

“It’s going to be interesting!”