Returning to campus is complicated — logistically, in terms of course design, and personally. We asked some faculty colleagues to share their thoughts on coming back to teaching in person. Many thanks to our contributors!
What teaching strategies from the pandemic year will you keep?
Since the outbreak of Covid, I have taught remotely. Many students chose not to turn their cameras on nor update their profile pictures with their photos. But I kept having conversations with each one during my class time, as if I was seeing them in person, asking how they are and other follow-up questions. I was not expecting this practice was really important for them. Evidently, they really appreciated this care and it enabled them to feel more comfortable in the class. I came to know the impact of this after seeing my evaluation feedback and scores. The takeaway of this, each student should feel their presence is important and should feel the care over them as an individual, a good practice to keep up during in-person teaching.
In an otherwise tough year, I found real joy and solace in my teaching. This was because I chose to break my sections up into small discussion sections that met once a week in InSpace. (I substituted a discussion post for the other class meeting to get students thinking deeply about what we’d talk about during our synchronous meeting). As a result, instead of the Brady Bunch of the Apocalypse (i.e., a screen full of blank, unresponsive squares), my remote classes became thoughtful, almost collegial conversations that engaged students and sustained me. Did students have their cameras on? Mostly, no. Did anyone mind? Nope, because in a small group and especially on InSpace where we could form ourselves into a circle, the connection felt real even without a visual.
I’ve tinkered with small-group work before this, but the new-found flexibility engendered by pandemic teaching will make small groups my go-to format from now on — particularly as we go into such an uncertain year. Small groups will make it easy to flip remote again if we have to, and whether we’re in-person or virtual, I know that my students and I will have a rich and meaningful time together.
Read more of Liz’s thoughts on teaching on her website!
When you think about returning to teach on campus, what do you think is going to be most important for your and your students’ success?
Definitely, the informal conversations that happen before and after classes, in the hallways, while ordering a cup of coffee, or literally running into a student in the library (which, let’s just say reading and walking at the same time is always a bad idea). I miss how these spaces are often so perfect to talk with students about rainy days, pet updates, dorm fire alarms, new tattoos, how student organizations are going, and even negotiating late work submissions. As someone who studies the relationships of bodies and ritualized social practices, I’m convinced this is the glue that holds communities together, especially when it occurs in the actual movement (and sometimes collision) across spaces together. These are the spaces we see each other more fully and develop trust in our shared ability to bring our unique worlds to bear on how we learn and build community together.
I think the most important part of the return to full campus teaching will be to establish a tangible sense of community that is rooted in the specific place of Champlain. There may be a shock for both the students (and teachers!) of suddenly “being” in the same space with others. Attentions and awareness may be different than they were before, and we will have to mindful of how to practice pedagogy that fits the needs of the world now we find ourselves in, rather than just going back to how things were before. There will be a temptation to try to re-normalize, for comfort or security, but my suggestion is to not do this. The reality is that our imaginaries of what school and classrooms are perhaps outdated. We will have to find novel ways to attend to each other.
Within this, there is an opportunity to stake out space for experimentation, as well as productive dissensus, in how we imagine what a campus, and its various learning spaces, is and can be. I think there is a chance to be in the classroom — and the world at large — in a different way; one that actively tries to counter both the individualism and anxiety of neoliberal educational regimes that we currently inhabit with something more humanistic, ethical, and plural. These questions should be fundamentally up for grabs in the pedagogy we communally bring into our learning spaces over the next months and co-create with the students there. This is the ground that a real experiential learning can be created from — one that is not instrumental or product driven, that meets the educational needs of our student’s head on while also opening-up new and more complex understandings of a complicated world.