We have learned a considerable amount about teaching during this pandemic that will serve us well as we prepare for the spring semester. A number of valuable resources for teaching were linked in Wednesday’s Lafayette Today, including Preparing to Teach in Spring 2021 and Integrating Anti-Racism into Course Design. I thank the CITLS team for preparing these materials and for all their work supporting effective and reflective teaching.
This spring will certainly bring some pedagogical challenges, with 80% to 90% of the enrolled students in residence and ~30% of courses being offered in person, on campus. In this note I want to comment on three issues that are important to fold into planning and preparation for teaching courses this semester.
There are many reasons to contact your class prior to the start of the semester. It’s a great way to surface and address any concerns that individual students may have, and it’s an opportunity for you to find out some information about students’ learning situations. The Preparing to Teach resource linked above provides some suggestions and tools that can be used as part of your outreach.
I have heard of significant efforts undertaken this past fall by members of the faculty to support students learning from very inconvenient time zones. I cannot thank them enough for providing this assistance. With most students being on campus this spring there should be fewer such situations, but they will still arise, particularly in courses where there is a single section of a course available and the curriculum is highly vertical in its prerequisite structure. As always, everyone should exercise a degree of flexibility in finding reasonable ways to address these situations. While a fully equitable solution will sometimes not be possible, a solution that ensures that the learning objectives of the course can still be met is often possible.
Last fall I seemed to be involved in a conversation about recording classes, the use of cameras, etc., on an almost weekly basis. There is a tension between privacy and participation. This issue is more complex than that, however, and it provides an excellent opportunity for reflection on the ways in which we can foster engagement in remote modalities as well as discussions with students about the importance of engagement and participation in class. Lafayette’s educational model is not one where faculty members simply deliver content, but rather one where students are asked to grapple with challenging concepts through interactions with their instructors and classmates, and the quality of the experience depends in part on this interaction. These conversations will become more useful to achieving our educational mission if we can approach them with the understanding that the goal should be to find ways to support active engagement.
Finally, everyone should assume that at some point a student or students in their in-person class will be in quarantine or isolation. Instructors will be notified via email by the Office of Advising when a student is not cleared to attend in-person classes and when they are cleared to return to in-person classes. (Language that can be used regarding COVID-19 health concerns and details on important policies can be found on the CITLS Spring 2021 Syllabus Additions page). Similarly, there are plausible scenarios where all classes will need to be conducted remotely for some period of time. This could occur at the start of the semester if the arrival testing suggests that it would be useful or it could occur in the middle of the term. It might also be necessary should the instructor need to be in quarantine.
In many circumstances having a student in quarantine or moving a class to a remote modality won’t present a problem, but in others it will. I have received several questions about how in-person laboratory and studio experiences will accommodate such situations and how examinations will be conducted if a course is being taught on campus but a student is in quarantine. Similar issues arise should the entire class need to be conducted remotely for a period of time. Every syllabus should have clear language about how such situations will be managed and just as importantly, when such situations arise, timely and clear communication between the student and instructor will be critical in avoiding unnecessary confusion.
I will mention that CITLS is hosting A Conversation on Preparing to Teach in Spring 2021 on Monday. Many of the items above will be discussed at greater length during this workshop and I highly recommend it. The registration link is live.
I hope that everyone has had a genuine break for some portion of the past few weeks. Here’s hoping for a healthy, relaxed, and productive January.