Lessons learned: Going online just one more change for Dalessandro


“It was a lot,” says John Dalessandro, School of Social Work field assistant professor, about adjusting to online teaching, “but the best thing is to say, ‘I’m going to dive in 100 percent. I’m going to make some mistakes, but afterwards I’m going to know what I’m doing.’ ”

Dalessandro has spent several semesters adjusting his teaching, having switched from staff to faculty only last year. He began his University career at Pitt–Johnstown (2002-2006) where he was the master of social work program coordinator, then became director of field education for the school on the Pittsburgh campus, where he oversaw its many, many internships. 

Then starting last August, he learned Blackboard to teach his first course, switched to Canvas for the spring term, and then went online-only with everyone else in March.

In May, he began his first full online class, which was of course planned for in-person sessions: Generalist Social Work Practice, which teaches students skills to work with individuals, families, groups and communities. He also conducts a generalist field seminar.

Dalessandro is happy to get help from everywhere it is offered, he says, including the University Center for Teaching and Learning and Canvas itself.

“Pretty much everything” was different than he’d planned, he says. “What seems to be working best” is sending an outline of each class, akin to an agenda, to students prior to their weekly, three-hour meetings; it helps him and them, he explains.

He has learned that it’s best to turn his video off for lectures that feature PowerPoint slides, since students otherwise get distracted by the professor’s movements. He’s also kept his lectures to 30 minutes or less. “It has made these three hours not feel like three hours,” he says. Plus, he has uploaded all his lectures for students in other time zones or who are otherwise unable to join the class live.

“Other than being in the room with people who are able to raise their hand, being able to see their nonverbals more clearly — this online almost has the feel of being in the classroom,” Dalessandro says. The planned in-class, small-group exercises are “almost easier than in the classroom,” thanks to the Zoom breakout rooms.

Attendance was perfect on many weeks, he reported: “I must be doing something right.”

“The main thing I found out is: Learn to use this (technology) before you go into the classroom. Find somebody you can test things with. Then you only have to worry about teaching the material.”

Yes: Only that.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at martyl@pitt.edu or 412-758-4859.


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