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NMSU professor, Orthodox priest adapts to new technology to teach Old Testament

Like many faculty members at New Mexico State University, Gabriel Rochelle was a bit apprehensive about moving his course on the Old Testament to the Zoom online platform.


Head and shoulders of a man
Gabriel Rochelle, an 81-year-old Orthodox priest and religious studies professor at New Mexico State University, has had to adapt to new technology in order to teach his Old Testament course online. (Courtesy photo by Susan Steinhaus)

Ive been teaching online on a variety of platforms for the past 10 years, said Rochelle, pastor of St Anthony of the Desert Orthodox Mission and a religious studies professor in the NMSU Honors College. I also teach in New Jersey, and mostly what weve been using in the past was Skype.

But as soon as classes resumed from an extended spring break on March 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rochelle, 81, felt ahead of the game, thanks to the help he received from fellow faculty members and Honors College Dean Miriam Chaiken and Associate Dean Tim Ketelaar.

By the time classes started, I felt like I was ahead of the students, said Rochelle, while admitting that many students have the advantage of growing up with technology, and older faculty members have to learn to adapt to it.

In order to learn how to use Zoom properly, Rochelle said he took notes that he collected into a desktop file for easy access.

Im an old-fashioned book learner, so I wrote up a bunch of notes and made up a file in the event that I would forget it, Rochelle said. My main concern was how to revamp the material, but since my class mainly focuses on reading, I dont have to do a whole lot to revamp it.

Chaiken said that while faculty at NMSU did some heavy lifting in the two weeks they had to move 5,000 courses to an entirely online format, there are campus champions like Ketelaar who did a lot of work supporting other faculty who are less experienced with online teaching.

We are so pleased to have a true scholar like Father Gabriel teaching our Old Testament class, Chaiken said. The students adore him, and I think the fact that he rides up on his bike wearing brightly colored jackets (to be sure the cars see him) endears him to all of us.

Rochelle, an avid bicyclist who averages 6,000 to 7,000 miles a year on his bicycle, said that while hes experienced a few glitches with the Canvas site students use to access courses, he found that learning Zoom has been quite simple. While he hasnt explored all the possibilities of Zoom, he said he will continue to try and learn them.

Im a selective Luddite, Rochelle said, laughing. If I have to learn a program, Ill clench my teeth and do it.

As the first week of online learning came to an end, Rochelle reported the classs progress as, So far, so good. I would be lying if I didnt say there were obviously some frustrations with getting started on Zoom.

Rochelle said he sees the move to online learning as a sign of the times, and a move that may have been hastened by the pandemic.

My advice to anybody having issues is to learn the technology as best you can. You already know the subject. Be confident in that and figure out a way to adjust it to this odd setting, Rochelle said. This will change education forever. This whole platform of online education is definitely here to stay.