Another Year of Pandemic Teaching

Well, we are doing this again. This past June, when we had a few weeks of almost-normalcy (at least for us vaccinated folks), I really didn’t think we’d be back here again facing another semester of masks and testing and uncertainty and worry. But here we are.

I am lucky because my university has been taking this pandemic seriously from the very beginning. I want to mention that specifically because I know that many other colleges and universities have not done this or have really leaned into ignoring the real and serious harms that can occur when this is not taken seriously. We have had on-demand saliva-based PCR testing available to us as often as we’ve wanted it for the past year. I go to campus, spit into a tube, and a few hours later get a result pushed to an app (and email). That alone was a huge help to me during the last year before I got vaccinated in order to give me some relief to my anxiety about covid.

For this fall semester, they have required everyone to be vaccinated, for which I am very grateful. We still have testing available and I will still go get tested every week (and will encourage my students to do the same), especially now that we’ll be back on campus a bit.

I have chosen to teach in person this semester (and yes, it was a choice, and again, I am lucky that I had this as a choice and that it was not forced on me like at other institutions). This was due to the current set of circumstances, which could change throughout the semester. First, I am teaching two graduate-level courses that are relatively small (10-15 students typically). I have taught them both before, both in-person and remote, and I feel strongly that the class is better when it is in person. It is also, frankly, easier for me to teach in person. Because I am vaccinated and everyone else should be vaccinated and we will all have to wear masks the whole time and I am bringing my portable HEPA filter with me, I feel like it is worth trying to doing this in person. (If I had small children at home who are unvaccinated or if it was a larger class of undergrads – like I’ll have in the spring – I might be making a different choice.) But I am also, in the back of my mind, making alternate plans in case things get worse in a few weeks or a month or two and we’ll have to transition back to remote. I think that’s definitely possible and it won’t be awesome and hopefully we won’t have to do that (for multiple reasons), but at least I know I can manage that and it will be fine.

It’s very strange seeing people back on campus. The calendar in my office is still on March 2020. The vibe seems to be hopeful but uncertain. At least, that’s how I feel. My dog is upset that I am not working from home every day anymore. But, like us, she will adapt.

Also, last fall I added a pandemic and coronavirus statement to my syllabi. I’m including it again this year and have copied it here in case you might find it helpful to adapt to your syllabus:

Pandemic and Coronavirus statement

We are attempting to have as normal of a semester as possible during a global pandemic. I think it is important to remember that this is happening in the background of our learning this semester. The pandemic will affect us all in different ways and at different points in time throughout the semester. It is crucial that we are kind and empathetic towards ourselves and each other during this time. We need to be flexible and adaptable and we need to center caring for each other.

I want to be very clear: your health and the health of your family, classmates, and your community is the most important thing. This includes both your physical and mental health. Please keep me updated with how you are doing and if you need extensions on due dates or other support. I don’t need any specifics about what is going on, I just need you to tell me what you need.

Try not to compare yourself to others; you don’t know what others are or are not going through (this is good advice even when we’re not trying to get through a pandemic).

Teaching in the time of Coronavirus

Our spring semester ended a little bit ago and after having taught online for the second half of it and now planning for an online fall semester, I have some thoughts. First, a little bit about me and my position in all of this, so you can understand where my perspective is coming from. I am an assistant professor at a large public Midwestern university. I study learning and educational technologies. I am an old millennial and have seen first-hand how technology has dramatically changed during my schooling career (from early personal computers in elementary school to broadband internet in college to smart phones and social media now). I have a serious underlying medical condition (type 1 diabetes) that affects my everyday life in sometimes unpredictable ways and makes me much more vulnerable to adverse complications with Covid-19 but also has supplied me with coping mechanisms and resilience to deal with this physical distancing1 and uncertainty that we all now face. Alright, here are my thoughts on teaching (and just being in the world) in this time of crisis and how we can adapt and get through it safely.

Guiding principles during an uncertain time

My guiding principles around this transition to online were flexibility and empathy. Being flexible with myself in how I adapted the course and being ok with making changes week to week as we were figuring it out, and being flexible with my students in understanding what their needs were and how they were changing as the pandemic continued. Empathy is equally important because it’s more important than ever to create a supportive and nurturing classroom culture. And that is built on empathy and trust.

Continue reading “Teaching in the time of Coronavirus”