Another Pandemic Semester Is Underway. Here’s What Students and Profs Learned From the Fall

Jan 19, 2021

Here we go again. Spring semester is starting at campuses around the country, and the COVID-19 pandemic just doesn’t seem ready to let up.

Just like in the fall, some campuses are doing as much in-person teaching as possible, with safety interventions like plexiglass barriers in front of podiums. Others are staying fully online.

One big difference? Professors and students now have some experience under their belt with the compromises of balancing learning and staying healthy.

So what are some lessons they learned from the fall semester? Are there tips or advice that can make the spring go just a bit more smoothly?

Last week, we gathered a mix of students and professors—some from campuses that went fully online and others, including Purdue University, keen on staying in person—for an online forum last week. The participants were all from our Pandemic Campus Diaries series, an 8-episode podcast project that ran every two weeks during the fall.

One student offered this advice for faculty: “Expect the same amount of engagement from your students as you’re willing to put in,” said Marjorie Blen, a junior at San Francisco State University. In other words, if you’re phoning in your online lectures and Zoom classes, don’t be surprised if your students do the same.

A professor, meanwhile, shared that students should realize that teaching online takes more time than teaching in person, and that many faculty are also wrestling with personal obstacles from the pandemic. “I have a lot of colleagues who taught from their cars because they didn'’ have Wi-Fiin their home, or they had young children” and needed a quiet place to teach, said Peter Sands, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. “I think that there has to be that kind of graciousness and awareness—that as strapped as you are, so is the person at the other end of the camera.”

Rachel Davenport, a senior lecturer at Texas State University who taught online in the fall and plans to do so again in the spring, encouraged students to make an effort to participate in online classes.

“Sometimes I felt like I was being desperately needy in the ether of Zoom [saying], ‘Do you get it? Do you understand? Are you as excited as I am?’ and just getting crickets,” she said. “What really helped me was when students did come to my office hours or typed into the chat something like ‘Oh, it makes sense,’ or ‘Oh, I get it now,’ or when they leave their cameras on and they’re nodding.”

“That’s why we teach in the first place,” Davenport continued. “We’re here because just seeing that spark in the student’s eyes like that, that engagement is what keeps us going.”

Hear more on the full episode of this week’s podcast. Listen to this week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player on this page.


Other news