features

Transitioning to Distance Learning: Mark Hallahan, Faculty

By Hui Li ’21

Co-Chief Photographer

During the last Dean’s Forum held on campus, Provost Freije said to students: “You and the faculty are going to be transitioning together.” 

This is certainly true, as while the vast majority of students have been settling back into their homes, the faculty have been working to adjust their curricula and adapt their teaching methods to an online format. Professor Mark Hallahan of the College of the Holy Cross psychology department, who is experienced at teaching classes in-person and has never taught remotely before, shares his recent experience with transitioning to distance learning.

Professor Hallahan, who is a social psychologist, is currently teaching two classes: Research Methods (PSYC 201) and Judgment and Decision Making (PSYC 238). He wrote to The Spire: “Not everything that can be done in an in-person class meeting translates well to an online meeting.” He reflected on how he is unable to notice the subtle cues he can usually get from students during his lectures: “In class, I get a lot of information about how well students understand the material from their nonverbal behavior. It helps me decide when to speed up and slow down and when another example might be helpful.” 

A screenshot taken at the beginning of one of Professor Hallahan’s class meetings on Zoom. 

Despite the challenges of adjusting his course material and assessments to better suit the logistics of Zoom and Moodle, the two platforms he uses for his classes, he describes the transition as “reasonably smooth.”

“I appreciate that the students in my courses have been very flexible about the changes, which makes it much easier,” he added. 

The biggest challenge in Professor Hallahan’s semester plans happened in his Research Methods course. “Students were in the middle of their work on a semester-long research project when campus closed. It was no longer possible for them to collect data for the projects they had designed,” he shared. Not only are his Research Methods students no longer able to collect material for their semester-long course projects, they are also unable to present their work. “This course usually culminates with students giving public talks to present their projects to the psychology department. I regret that this year’s students will miss the opportunity to do that.”

Professor Hallahan has, however, taken steps to ensure that his students gain the data analysis skills that Research Methods students benefit from in their studies. “I was able to create alternative assignments that would give them the experience of analyzing the data and presenting their findings, but it’s not the same as being able to do their own project from beginning to end,” he stated.

When asked for psychological insight on the situation, he said that he is “not sure that [he has] any specific advice as a psychologist.” 
However, Professor Hallahan does offer advice through understanding what he can do during this unprecedented time. He acknowledges that as difficult as the situation is right now,  it is not permanent and is necessary for a greater good. “I’m trying to make the best of an unusual situation because I know this temporary disruption to our normal routine is a necessary step to reduce the spread of a very serious illness.”

Photo by Hui Li ’21, with consent from Professor Hallahan and the class.

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