I am announcing an official, psychological name for our new quasi-post-maybe-it-over period of COVID-19. I call it the “Analysis of Variants” phase, or AOV.
Variant analysis phase.
AOV is different from the early stages of the pandemic. Two years ago, my students and I were all in crisis mode, adjusting to (a) being at home, (b) having remote interactions, (c) worrying about our family and friends getting COVID, and (d) spending every morning waiting for our two-day free shipping deliveries. Well, it doesn’t feel like we’re all in the same boat – students and I have had a range of experiences. For example, this fall I will be teaching my freshman seminar remotely to students who went through various types of distance learning in high school and are returning to face-to-face classes to varying degrees.
I have chosen to teach my class remotely this fall because I fall into some high-risk groups (e.g. seniors, wimps) and because I want to further optimize the strategies I have implemented during the pandemic. My university peers are very supportive of distance learning (especially those whose offices are near me…) because they recognize that distance learning (courses that meet practically in real time) could be very popular – they could be the wave of the AOV future .
I will definitely ask my students what they think about taking a distance learning course while also taking other courses on campus. I also wonder how they experienced their past semesters. One answer to that question emerges from a recent survey of student attitudes during the pandemic. Within the Higher Ed and College Pulse conducted the survey, also sponsored by Kaplan. The survey was conducted this spring and included more than 2,000 students from more than 100 campuses. The results helped me look back on my efforts over the past two years and gave me pause when considering moving back into the classroom in the future. Let me summarize some of the key findings.
Remote classes are still relatively common, and sometimes surprise students: the survey found that about one in three students “had at least one professor by spring 2022 who chose to teach virtually when classes were supposed to be in person.” At the onset of the pandemic, many courses transitioned to remote almost immediately. But now I wonder how a surprise change in format might affect students’ perceptions of a course or a professor.
The faculty reacted and the students took notice: last year I introduced a grace period for homework. Even after the grace period had expired, the students still had the rest of the semester to complete partial work. The feedback I received from the students was positive. Her response mirrored the survey results: two-thirds of the students had at least one professor who responded positively to their requests for such accommodation; About a quarter of the students received at least one negative response from a professor.
My university was very supportive of the faculty who immediately switched to distance learning. For one, they have helped us meet the technological demands of the transition. I took every opportunity to learn how to make videos, record my feedback on student assignments, create a full course on Canvas, and otherwise infuse technology fundamentals, bells, and whistles. Apparently, I wasn’t alone: Survey respondents rated their professors’ use of technology highly—nearly three-quarters of students rated their professors excellent in this regard, while just 4 percent rated them negatively. My students especially appreciated being given recorded rather than written feedback on their work and other assignments. They experienced my feedback as more caring and personal.
Two years ago I spent all summer organizing my class – preparing assignments for each lesson, sketching everything on canvas and showing students the assignments, their value and purpose. At the beginning of the semester, students had access to all assignments (there were many of them) and the timetable for the entire semester. Such organization is noticed by students: Four out of five students in the survey had at least one professor who was “organized and able to handle the job.” However, about 3 in 10 said they had at least one professor who was disorganized. As one student said, “Some seem overworked and overwhelmed.” I want to give the impression that I have control of the situation so that students feel more comfortable and more willing to take risks.
Transition back to the classroom
For the past two years, I’ve tried to be organized, responsive, tech-savvy, and transparent with students. The survey results show that my efforts have not been in vain. The results will also help me transition back into the classroom. When I go back to class, I will take with me many of the changes I made. For example, I will continue to use grace periods for assignments; I want to teach speed, but I also want to teach compassion. I will continue to record my feedback to students. However, I must return to the classroom mindfully and intentionally to avoid potential pitfalls. For example, one student remarked, “Many professors are now using the same lectures that were recorded by COVID and are simply asking students to watch them instead of teaching in person because it’s easy for them.” I want good reasons for the changes , which I make.
Finally, the poll results help me put all of this into context and mitigate my feelings of burnout: Fifteen percent of the students in the poll were “aware of at least one professor … who resigned during the pandemic.” I’m grateful to have had a (wonderful) job during the pandemic, lucky to have had such supportive colleagues, and hopeful that I’ll get through the pandemic, AOV and whatever comes next.