If my inbox is a reliable indicator, Lafayette’s faculty, staff, and administration were working very hard this past weekend getting ready for the start of the fall semester. And the activity this weekend was on top of the extraordinary effort we have all put in over the summer. I personally appreciate the time, reflection, and creativity that the community has invested in preparing for this upcoming semester, as will our students.
Do the heroic efforts of ITS guarantee that classes will go smoothly this fall? Will students notice the efforts that our librarians have made to provide access to a truly wide range of materials? Will the thoughtful and scholarly approach the faculty took to the designing of engaging and challenging courses mean that our students will all respond enthusiastically? Regrettably, there are no guarantees. While the effort we invested in infrastructure, training, remote services, and course design will pay dividends, everyone is fully aware that the results for this fall semester are likely to be highly variable. Focusing for the moment on classes, as the semester unfolds each faculty member will learn which of their planned techniques proves to actually be effective. Said another way, the Lafayette faculty’s understanding of “best practices” for teaching in a pandemic is yet to be discovered. In light of this, we should all plan to celebrate our successes and learn what we can when things go awry. The overused phrase “flexibility and adaptability” applies not only to course design but also to our communal expectations for those courses. Our ultimate goal is outstanding educational opportunities, and this fall we should support each faculty member’s thoughtful experimentation and their reflection on the effectiveness of our varied approaches. It is not perfection in pedagogy that the faculty as a community of teacher-scholars should expect, but rather we should value earnest efforts to find ways to capture the essence of liberal, student-focused education in a remote learning environment.
The need to build community within and through classes has been a common theme this summer. Faculty members and students are worried about how successful they will be in creating connections with each other in a fully remote semester. This has been a focus of summer workshops and training offered through CITLS and LRT, so I won’t try to capture all of the ideas that have come forward. However, in case it helps, let me point toward some of the resources that are available from those discussions:
Finally, in a note sent on July 31, President Byerly wrote: “[S]uccess in the coming year will depend not on each of us working harder, but on all of us working together.” It is quite clear that any plan that requires individuals to work even harder will fail, as we have worked well beyond capacity just to arrive at being prepared for the fall semester. What we can do, however, is to be mindful of the fact that each of us is part of a community that is dedicated to making 2020-21 a successful academic year. Just as it will be important to help our students create connections, it is also important for us to support each other. We should be willing to share our both our successes and our failures in the expectation that they will lead to improvements throughout the semester, and we should provide as much aid and encouragement as we can to all of our staff and faculty colleagues, acknowledging the critical contributions each of us is making in support of our students.
Even taking into consideration the weekend scrambling, I know we are ready for this first week of classes. Thank you for all that you have done to get us to this point, and find a moment today to enjoy the start of the academic year.