Flexibility, accountability, and backing up the back-up plan will be the only way to make this fall work. Even then, I am not sure how it will play out.
Back in May, my decision to do the mostly in-person with some online context seemed to be the clear winner in the fall choices. I applaud my university for giving 5 options, ranging from in-person to all online. I am also grateful that we could largely decide, based on course content, student needs, and our own personal situations.
I’ve been trying to counter every potential issue with a solution that falls within the range of CDC guidelines, university protocol, student expectations, and my own abilities to make this semester successful. I’ll add that I have been assigned a higher teaching load and thus, have more students than I have ever had. I am also teaching in the student union’s ballroom for my large class, which will provide unique challenges.
My classes are classified as web-assisted, meaning that we have meet in-person at least 15 hours throughout the semester.
Here’s my plan (fully realizing that I may be eating my words in a few weeks):
- Problem: A class of 99 students isn’t going to make it very long before someone brings COVID to the classroom.
Proposed solution: For the large lecture, we will only meet once a week in person. Students can choose to either attend class or they can do a discussion post online. In other words, meeting face-to-face is optional and engagement is measured in different ways. Students can choose week by week which option to do and they don’t have to tell me why. This approach will hopefully reduce the likelihood of students coming to class with symptoms and will cut down the numbers overall.
- Problem: Students may resist wearing masks.
Proposed solution: The university has established mandatory mask-wearing, backed by campaigns to inform students and free masks. I have already reminded students through email that this is the policy and will remind again through Zoom. No mask=no entry into class. Mask off in class=asked to leave.
- Problem: Students may have difficulty understanding me, especially since I am teaching in a ballroom and my face is covered.
Proposed solution: I will also do a separate recording of each lecture (online, not just a recording of class) so that students can clearly see my face through the screen with closed captioning and have a back-up for the lecture. This method also provides the material for students who cannot come to class or opt out.
- Problem: Students will be confused about what they need to do to succeed in class.
Proposed solution: In a semester that demands flexibility, I’m trying to be as consistent as possible. I’ve already posted the schedule, list of assignments, and deadlines. Discussion posts and quizzes will always be on set days. Communication is also going to be key. Even more than in a typical semester, I plan to use email and D2L announcements to convey what needs to be done when. I’m also using the module format and platform calendar to reinforce what needs to be done when.
- Problem: Students may be anxious about this semester, especially those who are first-years.
Proposed solution: This is the primary reason I chose a partially in-person format. I want students that really need the face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) connection to have it. Since some of the anxiety likely stems from the unknown, I’ve already emailed all of my students with our general class plan, including our first day of class Zoom. I also made a brief welcome video on our D2L site and wrote out directions to access our class syllabus. Even if we have to go all online at some point, I will continue offering both a Zoom class discussion and Zoom office hours.
I’m not sure how this will all work — how long we will get to have class. Obviously, I’m hoping that the optional class to reduce numbers, mandatory masks, and other precautions set forth by the university keep us safe. What I can say is that I will do my best to help students feel engaged and succeed in this very unusual semester.