I witnessed a scene today that I suspect and hope is being enacted on many college campuses. Now that finals are completed in this strangely split semester (second half on-line with faculty, students and everyone else sheltering in place), the Sage faculty met to discuss what worked and what didn’t in this unplanned experiment.
The focus was decidedly upbeat with 80 of 130 faculty present on Zoom and twenty or so brief presentations of innovative strategies and successes. Rather than sounding worn out, our faculty seemed energized by the sharing of ideas and best practices, and they kept coming back to the importance of ensuring that students felt connected though learning remotely.
An OT professor discussed making patient assessment videos with another instructor to demonstrate proper techniques. Students liked reviewing and critiquing them so much that the professor plans to continue the use of video even when the course returns to the lab. A Children’s Lit professor described creating videos with local authors of children’s books who described the function of different elements of their work.
Several talked about how moving small groups of students into Zoom breakout rooms countered their initial passivity and sparked lively participation. Many spoke of the technology that facilitated student activities and presentations: a Graduate Research Day with over a hundred people making poster presentations via Zoom, students walking through a gene cloning experiment virtually, and students learning presentation skills by doing a recorded rather than live PowerPoint.
Nothing about this would surprise seasoned faculty and those experienced teaching in-person, on-line and with a mixture of modalities. What was refreshing was that the crisis situation generated such experimentation and collaboration. As the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning put it, “We were forced out of teaching the way we were taught” and didn’t have that weight of personal experience and traditional pedagogy to fall back on.
The other theme was the need to stay connected with students who were enduring traumatic disruptions—educational and otherwise. Some faculty taught asynchronously but used their scheduled class time as open office hours and fielded questions and stories about the stresses that students were experiencing. Others talked about how “chat” features and virtual office hours emboldened some students who had rarely spoken in the first half of the term.
They all were cognizant of how these special circumstances called for exceptional methods. At the same time, we recognize that building relationships and connections with and among students is a trademark of our pedagogy at all times. The circumstances simply highlighted that and necessitated a greater deliberateness to our approaches.
Like all of us, the faculty are worried about the uncertainties of fall semester 2020 and the need to prepare for multiple modalities without knowing what teaching under the pandemic will look like in late August let alone November.
Still, I was struck by how heartening that discussion would have been to students, to parents, and to pundits who are jaundiced about higher education. There’s a good bit of talk about how crises bring out the best of us. It was gratifying to see that phenomenon so vividly illustrated with our faculty.