The pandemic has forced some professors to rethink how they teach, and it has led some students to forge closer connections with their professors—and each other.
For this installment of our semester-long Pandemic Campus Diaries series, we’ve asked our participants to reflect on what they’ve learned from this disrupted and stressful semester. As we get close to the end of the year, have any lessons emerged? Are there things that are working that they might continue doing after the health crisis ends?
For Rachel Davenport, a senior lecturer at Texas State University, one key area where she has thrown out old assumptions has been testing.
“Why have I not done open-book exams? Why did I spend a decade giving closed-book exams?” she asks. “I can’t tell you why. I mean, I think it was literally just that’s the way it was done when I was a student.”
She says she will probably never go back to closed-book exams. “So I don’t think that this is true for all classes, but for the ones that I’m teaching, I focus on concepts and application, especially for my pre-med students,” she says. “And I also realize, I forget things all the time and I go back and look them up and I’m a professional. And so if I can look things up, why can’t my students look things up?”
Over at San Francisco State University, David Peña-Guzmán has had a similar revelation this semester about ditching old habits. But it’s not just about testing.
He says most professors have been forced to jump through all kinds of hoops to get to where they are: spending years on a dissertation, taking “unyielding” comprehensive exams, navigating the academic job market. As a result, professors often replicate strict deadlines and formalities for their students.
“My faith has been broken—my faith in that model has been productively broken,” he says. Since he has been forced to teach online during COVID, to students who are struggling with job losses and disruptions, he has realized that most students want to learn, even if they may not meet the strict requirements on the syllabus. “I decided to be hyper flexible, hyper accessible in terms of deadlines, extensions, assignments, formats—anything that a student would reach out to me and ask for, I made it a rule to give it to them… Now that I’ve seen the effects of this hyper flexibility, I don’t see why I would ever go back.”
Some students, too, say the pandemic has pushed them to grow in new ways
“I have learned a lot of self-discipline during this COVID-19 semester,” said Marjorie Blen, a student at San Francisco State. “It’s a really good job skill because when you’re a project manager or you have to meet a deadline, or you have to do campaigns and stuff, like you have to be self-organized.”
But these silver linings come inside a dark cloud. Much of the online semester has been so unsatisfying for Blen that she has considered putting her education on hold until the pandemic is over.
So while she is growing, data suggests that many other students are dropping out because they don’t have the resilience and organization skills that Blen has.
This is a short sampling of the EdSurge Podcast. Hear more views from students and professors on the full podcast version.
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