How safe would you feel teaching in-person classes this fall? Why or why not?
I prefer teaching in person. I’ve taught online and it is fine. I can see the appeal for some people. In this day and age, it’s hard to teach a class and not have some portion of it online. We also clearly live in a world where a great deal of informal learning happens on the internet and there are successful online programs out there.
In an ideal world, I’d like to teach in person in the fall, but we’re living in a world with a pandemic and that creates uncertainty. From what we know, being in an enclosed space increases risks. Wearing masks and social distancing mitigates that risk so we’ll have to figure out how to make that work.
For me, this is not only about my safety, but the safety of my family and community. We know you can spread the virus while not showing symptoms. I don’t want to bring it back to my family and I would feel terrible if I spread the virus.
Also, people need to feel safe in order to learn. It’s hard to focus on something like the Constitutional convention or the development of slavery and the plantation system (I teach history) if you are worried about getting sick.
What precautions need to be put into place for you to feel safe?
Schools are in a tough spot with the pandemic. We’re not alone. If you are in anything that requires social contact – restaurants, hairdressers, live events, gyms – we’re all in a tough spot. There is an enormous amount of speculation about what schools will look like in the fall. Just Google it. Masks, social distancing, and sterilization are critical but easier said than done. We can figure it out. I’m assuming we’ll be using masks in the fall. I’m not looking forward to it, but it seems necessary. Social distancing will be harder, but also an important element of safety.
The problem is, all this could change in the next six weeks.
What were your biggest takeaways from teaching online? If you had to do it again this year, would you be okay with that?
Taking an online class is different than taking a traditional class. Ramping up the online portion of the class wasn’t a technological challenge, but doing it in short notice when we had all signed up for in person classes – and were mid-way through assignments – was a challenge. Last semester one of the first things I did was write up a Google Doc for students on how to take an online course and create a separate section in the Learning Management System specifically for online instructions. Taking an online class is a different social dynamic. It requires more self-discipline so suddenly switching to line wasn’t just a technical challenge, but it was a technical challenge along with a lot of anxiety about the crisis.
This summer I’m giving a lot of thought to course design, building courses so that if we do have to go online all the elements will be introduced early in the class and the materials will be accessibly digitally. I’m also trying to take into account that not everyone has good internet and accessibility is an issue. The good news is that most students are carrying a computer in their pockets (i.e. their phones) and we can take advantage of that. In theory, my hope is that my courses will be better in the fall regardless of what happens with the pandemic.
I’m hoping for the best and planning for the worst.
What were your thoughts on the email from HR? It sounds like the requirements for remote teaching are pretty specific to people who are at high risk, have family members who are at risk or have underlying health conditions.
I really don’t know. We don’t have specifics about the fall yet and won’t until New York releases more information. I have family members who are at risk, but the chances of having concrete answers from doctors by June 30 is pretty slim. So I’m hoping that isn’t a firm deadline.