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Teaching in an Almost–Post-COVID Environment

What I need to learn from students.

Key points

  • A new survey shows that students notice, and may appreciate, the efforts faculty have made during the pandemic.
  • As we've transitioned to new phases of the pandemic, faculty have been responsive to student concerns, organized, and technologically competent.
  • As we transition back to the classroom, we need to avoid some pitfalls.

I’m announcing an official, psychology-related name for our new quasi-post-maybe-it’s-over period of COVID-19. I’m calling it the “Analysis-of-Variants” phase, or AOV.

"Analysis-of Variants" Phase

AOV is different from the initial stages of the pandemic. Two years ago my students and I were all in crisis mode, adjusting to (a) being home, (b) remote interactions, (c) worrying about our family and friends getting COVID, and (d) spending each morning waiting for our two-day free-shipping deliveries. Now, 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’m going to teach my first-year seminar remotely to students who have been through various types of remote learning in high school and have been transitioning back to in-person classrooms in varying degrees.

I have chosen to teach my course remotely this fall because I fall into a few high-risk groups (e.g., seniors, wimps) and because I want to continue tweaking the strategies I’ve implemented during the pandemic. My university colleagues are very supportive of me teaching remotely (especially those whose offices are near mine…) because they recognize that remote courses (courses that meet virtually in real-time) might be very popular—they might be the wave of the AOV future.

I will certainly be asking my students how they feel about choosing to take a remote course at the same time as they’re taking other courses on campus. I also wonder how they’ve experienced their previous semesters. One answer to this question comes from a recent survey of student attitudes during the pandemic. Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse conducted the survey, which was also sponsored by Kaplan. The survey was conducted this spring and included more than 2000 students from more than 100 campuses. The results helped me look back upon my efforts over the last two years and give me pause as I consider transitioning back to the classroom in the future. Let me summarize some of the major findings.

Survey Findings

Remote courses are still relatively common and sometimes surprise students: The survey found that about one in three students “had at least one professor in spring 2022 who chose to teach virtually when the class was meant to be in person.” At the beginning of the pandemic, lots of courses switched to remote almost instantaneously. But now, I wonder how a surprise switch of format might influence students’ perceptions of a course or a professor.

Faculty have been responsive, and students have noticed: Last year I instituted a grace period for assignments. Even after the grace period expired, students had the rest of the semester to complete assignments for partial credit. The feedback I received from students was positive. Their response mirrored the survey results: Two-thirds of students had at least one professor respond positively to their requests for such accommodations; about one-fourth of students received at least one negative response from a professor.

My university was very supportive of faculty making the immediate shift to remote learning. For one thing, they helped us meet the technological demands of the transition. I took advantage of every opportunity to learn how to make videos, to record my feedback on student assignments, to set up a full course on Canvas, and in other ways to incorporate technological basics, bells, and whistles. Apparently, I was not alone: Survey respondents rated their professors’ use of technology highly—almost three-fourths of students rated their professors as excellent in this regard, while only 4 percent rated them negatively. My students particularly appreciated getting recorded rather than written feedback on their papers and other assignments. They experienced my feedback as more caring and personal.

Two years ago, I spent the entire summer organizing my course—preparing assignments for every class period, outlining everything on Canvas, and letting students see the assignments, how much they were worth, and their purposes. At the beginning of the semester, students had access to every assignment (there were lots of them) and the schedule for the entire semester. Such organization is noticed by students: Four out of five students in the survey had at least one professor who “appeared organized and able to manage the job.” About 3 in 10, however, reported having at least one professor who was disorganized. As one student said: “Some give the impression they’re overworked and overwhelmed.” I want to convey the impression that I’m on top of the situation so that students feel more comfortable and ready to take risks.

Transitioning Back to the Classroom

Over the past two years, I’ve tried to be organized, responsive, tech-savvy, and transparent with students. The survey results show that my efforts were not in vain. The results will also help me transition back to the classroom. When I transition back to the classroom, I will bring with me lots of the changes I've made. For example, I will continue to use grace periods for assignments; I want to teach promptness, but I also want to teach compassion. I will also continue to record my feedback to students. However, I need to be mindful and intentional in coming back to the classroom to avoid potential pitfalls. For example, one student noticed, “A lot of professors now use the same lectures recorded from COVID and just tell students to watch them rather than teaching in person because it’s easy for them.” I want to have good reasons for the changes I make.

Finally, the survey results help me put all this into context and to mitigate my feelings of burnout: Fifteen percent of students in the survey were “aware of at least one professor…who resigned during the pandemic.” I feel grateful for having a (wonderful) job throughout the pandemic, lucky to have had such supportive colleagues, and hopeful that I will outlast the pandemic, AOV, and whatever comes next.