With vaccine mandates, daily symptom self-check, and everyone masked, I’m not anxious about teaching “live.” It’s definitely more fun than Zoom and, as importantly, it’s better for the students, their learning and their social experience of college, too.
I don’t think we’ve settled into the “new normal” quite yet. Only about half the normal number of classes are being held live on campus; a significant number of instructors and students having opted for full or partial Zoom courses for the balance. Of the 63 regular undergraduate courses offered by the SFSU History Department, 29 will be regular face-to-face, 13 will be partial f2f and partial on-line, 6 will be live on Zoom and 15 will be fully on-line/asynchronous.
I’m teaching three courses this semester, but with “social distancing” in mind, the University has capped the number of students in each room, so classes are smaller. I’m actually teaching fewer students than in past terms when I only taught two courses.
Of course, no one knows how long the current arrangements will last. The summer Delta surge raised fears of relapsing back to all-Zoom classes and we’re hardly out of the woods on that score (much less Lambda and subsequent variants). At least we all know what Zoom classes look like (having done them for two-and-a-half semesters), so an urgent transition/reversion should be pretty straightforward unlike April, 2020 (seems like a decade ago!) when we did a blind flash-cut. Still, there’s no denying that the Damoclean sword is hanging over us all.
On top of all that stuff, the University moved our entire department across campus and has demolished our old building (no sorrow there!). So, we have (newer and smaller) offices, a new layout, and only a small percentage of the faculty on-site every day (less dallying, too). Oh, did I mention there is a new copier to be learned and the fact that they cut our admin staff by 25%. Let’s just say our departmental recovery curve will be shallower than we might have hoped.
Here’s some anecdotal reportage:
* The first day, at least five students asked me for directions to a particular rooms. In each case while they were in the right building, they hadn’t yet figured out that one is unlikely to find Room 3xx on the first floor.
* While there is a fair amount of bustle, the relatively small portion of students on campus means that hallways are not so crowded and there was no line at the student union cafeteria at 12:20. (same food as before, but they’ve closed the seating areas, so everyone is eating outside (fine for now; not in December, though).
* Students and faculty are required to self-verify on-line every day before they come on campus. Then they can enter any building (masked); except (for unknown reasons) the Library, where Covid status must be verified to enter.
* My feet are a bit sore from standing/pacing 4 hours a day. Zoom classes are much more sedentary.
Students seem to be pretty happy/excited to be back live (Although my sample is skewed since I’m only seeing the ones who decided to come back.) Discussions are lively, students are eager. The freshpersons, of course, have never been in a college classroom before; but we have some sophomores who Zoomed all last year and are getting their first taste of campus life. Some freshpersons who had gone back to high school last spring find that while there is a change to college life, the (masked) classroom experience isn’t so different. Perhaps the COVID shock has put the formerly ‘big’ transition into a new light.
Everyone in my classes has been good about masking (one slipped mask was promptly remedied on request). Fortunately, there haven’t been any confrontations.
Talking through masks is generically a challenge. Even though I have a large and projectable voice, I have to bear the mask in mind when talking in class, even if the groups are relatively small. Some students, who often ‘underproject’ their voices in the normal course, need more frequent reminders to speak up. Since many students aren’t so good at raising hands and I can’t see their mouths move, it’s sometimes unclear who is talking, but eventually, we will work this out.
Similarly, it’s usually a multi-week project to get sufficiently familiar with students’ faces to match them with names. With Zoom classes, I could get a handle on a good number (at least among those students who activated their cameras). Now, it’s definitely harder since masking limits the ‘recognizable square inches’ of everyone’s faces; so this is another area where I will cut myself (and others) some slack.
The University now is wrestling with the parameters for the Spring Term. While everything, of course, is subject to change, we will see if it decides to keep the current level of live activities, nudge things up, or return to “normal” operations. Even if the latter, I expect that some higher level of on-line courses (maybe 15%) will be part of the “new normal.” All of that will lead to a complex calculus of class sizes, and number of courses offered which means, as usual, us lecturers are sitting on a bubble to see how many courses we are hired to teach.
However, that is all administrivia in the moment. It’s good to be back. We still have the “normal” challenges, and we can’t be sure how the COVID shock will play out in the psyches of students or faculty over time.
But, overall, most folks seem to have smiles (under their masks).