A Professor's Prospective on Wake Online: Dr. Samanta Ordóñez Robles

Dr. Samanta Ordóñez Robles is a Spanish professor at Wake Forest with a Ph.D. in Romance Studies with a concentration in Hispanic Literature and Film and Video Studies. Among the four Spanish courses she teaches, she has constructed one surrounding Masculinity in Mexican Cinema. Ordóñez has transitioned to online classes rather smoothly in the midst of all the chaos in the world. 


Her Campus: What was your initial reaction when you heard that you were going to have to move your classes to online?

Dr. Samanta Ordóñez:  Like almost everyone else, I was surprised about how quickly the pandemic-related changes started affecting all aspects of daily life in our community, including classes and other kinds of work happening on campus. There were already some indications in early March that the virus was spreading very rapidly around the world, and the faculty received recommendations to prepare to teach summer/fall courses online, but I think most of us were taken aback by how soon the transition became necessary. I was initially apprehensive about moving to online teaching because I was unsure about how my students would adjust to the new format. I was concerned that students would not be able to get the most out of my classes without being in a traditional, face-to-face learning environment. I think it was the right decision for the administration to give us an extra week after spring break before resuming classes. Once I began to organize new lessons and assignments in the online format, I felt more assured that my teaching would still effectively help students achieve their learning goals.


HC: What kind of changes did you have to make, generally speaking, in order to readjust the course to be online?

SO: My classes involve a lot of student interaction, dialogue and small group activities, so I wanted to find a way to preserve these aspects of my approach to teaching. I consider this very important because it not only gives students the opportunity to practice speaking in Spanish, but also ensures that the discussions in class include diverse ideas and multiple perspectives related to the cultural texts and other materials we are studying. At first, I wasn’t sure if it would be possible to maintain the same level of interaction in an online format. However, I found that the new technologies that are available, like the online meeting platform Zoom, as well as some of the features on Canvas, allow a lot of flexibility in terms of how to practice dialogic pedagogy. In this sense, the adjustments I am making are primarily aimed at enhancing opportunities for students to exchange views with one another and to receive my feedback. Other changes have involved modifying the requirements for assignments so that students can complete the course objectives within the limitations of these difficult circumstances. Sometimes this means allowing students to have more options about how they will complete the coursework. It has been challenging for everyone to adjust to the new reality, so I think it is fair to accommodate to individual situations.


HC: Were some courses that you teach easier or harder than others to move online? 

SO: The classes I am teaching this semester are quite similar in terms of the assignments I designed and the learning activities students engage in, so there have not been any big differences in how the transition is unfolding. I understand that classes in some fields and disciplines may be much more challenging to transform on short notice.


HC: What is the one thing you miss the most about teaching in a classroom setting?

SO: Of course, there is no way that online meetings can replace the experience of being in the classroom with a group of engaged students sharing a moment of curiosity or illumination. I also miss engaging in informal conversations with my students before and after class. I always like to hear what’s going on in their everyday lives.


HC: Do you think you would ever offer this course online, pending how the rest of the semester goes?

SO: As far as I know, there are no plans at Wake Forest to begin offering online classes on a permanent basis. I am eager to return to in-person teaching but understand that teaching online provides an imperfect and temporary solution for this unprecedented situation. I am convinced that online teaching cannot truly substitute traditional classroom teaching. However, this experience has made me think more about different ways I can incorporate online technologies into my ordinary teaching practice.


HC: And lastly, what have been some challenges of teaching at home?

SO: I am very fortunate to have an adequate space to teach from home without much difficulty (other than having to occasionally push my cats off my desk while I’m on Zoom). I think everyone understands that disruptions can occur when we are teaching and learning in spaces not designed for these purposes. And many students and teachers are facing the additional challenge of caring for children, elderly parents or loved ones who are ill or disabled. I think the most important thing we can all do is show compassion and understanding for those who are under increased pressure due to this crisis.