Adversity can force us out of our comfort zones and lead to unexpected, if painful, growth. A publisher’s rejection prompts us to refine a manuscript. Relationship stress triggers self-examination. Covid-19 has brought faculty members some of the greatest adversity most of us have ever faced in our professional lives (and maybe our personal lives, too). But will it change how we work, for the better?
For the great majority of faculty members, I dare say, the pandemic has been an overwhelmingly negative experience — one we would not choose to live through again. And yet, for me at least and I hope for other faculty members, it hasn’t been all bad. Over the past 11 months, in fact, I have learned a great deal about myself, about my students, and about this profession to which I have devoted my life. High on the list:
Online teaching has its advantages. Count me among those hoary, old baby-boomer professors who not only had never taught online but who never had any interest in doing so — and was fairly vocal about that. I always assumed that teaching online would be boring and tedious, incorporating all the worst elements of teaching (grading, paperwork, administrative tasks) without any of the fun stuff, like interacting directly with students. For me, teaching has always been a form of performance art. How, I wondered, can one perform without an audience?
My fears have been realized, to some extent — but not nearly to the extent I imagined. I was pleasantly surprised, after making the sudden pivot to a virtual classroom last spring, to find that teaching online is a lot more like “actual teaching” than I had anticipated. I also found that the grunt work, with an online class, is no gruntier than it is with the in-person version.
In addition, I discovered that teaching online, especially asynchronously (as we were advised to do by our campus teaching center), offers definite advantages. I certainly enjoyed being able to work from home and spend more time with family (although I confess to becoming a bit cabin feverish by late April), and I was even able to do some traveling over the summer while still faithfully executing my teaching duties.
Even though we’ve now gone back to holding classes on the campus — albeit in a highly modified format — I continue to teach some of my course load online. I still slightly prefer the old way — in a physical classroom full of students — but I can certainly see myself teaching more classes online in the future and perhaps moving fully online at some point.
An old dog learns new tricks. In my teaching, the list of things I have done pretty much the same way for 20 or more years is alarmingly long. In some cases, that’s because they work well and I see no reason to fix something that isn’t broken — or so I tell myself, at least. But in other cases, I must confess that I’ve been a little lazy. Or maybe just busy with more important things. Either way, if some reading assignment, activity, or approach has worked well enough for years — even if I wished it worked a little better — I’ve been inclined to stay with it. (Sounds a little like academe in general, doesn’t it?)
Last spring’s sudden lockdowns, along with our eventual reopening under very different protocols, has changed all that. Like everyone else, I was forced not only to learn entirely new skills — like how to teach online — but also to figure out new ways of doing the things I’ve always done. Some of those new things — like virtual office hours — I plan to jettison at the first opportunity, but others I will keep and use probably for the rest of my career.
For instance, I have always required my students to submit their essays on paper so I could grade them by hand. On more than one occasion, when students grumbled about that, I’ve even said, “I know your other professors let you submit your papers online, but I don’t. And I don’t ever plan to.”
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– by Rob Jenkins, The Chronicle of Higher Education.