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Face to Face: University of Montana professor Mike Morelli on online teaching

In more than 30 years of teaching, University of Montana professor Mike Morelli has become well versed in leading a virtual classroom, from theater to business.

“I was fortunate to take most of my classes online and develop them along with UMOnline about three years,” he said. “This has been okay for me. I also teach art online for Central Texas College and have been doing that for about 15 years, so I have some experience there.”

Before spring break back in March, the Montana University System instructed all schools to move classroom instruction online. The shift has challenged some – students and teachers alike – though others have navigated the transition well.

While online learning lacks the social interaction of campus life, Morelli believes it comes with other benefits.

“The pros and cons are, of course, you can access all this amazing content online. It’s out there everywhere,” he said. “The downside is the one-on-one interaction with the faculty member and a student … That’s pretty important to the university experience. Missing that or not having that face-to-face interaction is a big deal.”

The university launched UMOnline long before the pandemic hit and classroom teaching came to a temporary end. The program supports innovation in online teaching by blending faculty instruction with web-enhanced learning opportunities.

Morelli said the system has helped many instructors navigate the new environment.

“UMOnline has a whole suite of services they offer and have offered before this. All those things were already in place and being offered,” he said. “As we’ve gone forward and come to this new normal, everyone is working together to make sure faculty can get online, understand what they’re doing and get the training they need to be successful.”

Returning to normal after the pandemic may pose its own challenges, Morelli added. He said communication from the school has been good.

“I think the school is doing the best it can,” he said. “It’s a big thing to say we’re going to fundamentally change the way we teach and do it for a time frame we don’t know.”