Faculty, students and colleges in trying times

2016 Military Bowl, 27Dec2016, Wake Forest vs Temple; Photo: Anthony Moretti

I listened in to a webinar examining how faculty and students are coping in this most unusual academic year. My notes were shared with the Robert Morris University full- and part-time faculty.

Here’s what I wrote, and perhaps it has value to you, too:

1. Faculty across the country, at schools big and small, public and private, are dealing with the same challenges — rapidly rolling out of a new teaching modality; determining their own confidence with teaching online; recognizing their students concerns, etc. No faculty member — full-time or part-time — at any institution should think they are alone in feeling uneasy, fearful, worried, etc. about the current stressful environment. Be self-aware of you; take breaks, take a walk, relax.
2. What we are doing across the country (moving to online, sending students home, etc.) is the “least worst” option, as one panelist said. Another one said, “No student signed up for Zoom University.” Faculty can aid their students by seeing them as colleagues, demonstrating empathy for them, and retaining open communication with them. Faculty and students are dealing with a major disruption to the academic environment, so whatever we as faculty can do to be an agent of calm will be good.
3. We need to understand that our students are now returning home, and that means they might be required to pick up family care or other personal commitments; these obligations must be taken into consideration when we assume that synchronous teaching will be easy for everyone. Related to this, we cannot punish students because they lack the technological capabilities at home that they had on campus. Flexibility is necessary, and mandatory. (Side note, as an example: I had a question from one of my Comm Skills faculty last night about whether assignments must be submitted in Microsoft Word; I told that faculty member that accommodations must be made because Word is not a guarantee for any student on a home computer and no student can encumber any expenses to complete any course.)
4. Every previous crisis in higher education (let’s say Katrina) has been local or regional; what makes what we are dealing with now different is that a national crisis will test the capital S System. “Standard operating procedure” might need to be tossed out the window (and might already have been). Every institution must prepare for students who are not close to campus opting to transfer to be closer to home or to a school that might be better equipped to handle online teaching (should this pandemic last into the fall).
5. Do not forget the important role advisers (which can include the equivalent to our Career and Professional Development Center) can play in ensuring that students can complete classwork, graduate school applications, internships, etc.
One panelist recently wrote this piece for the Chronicle. It was shared in the webinar (https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-to-Make-Your-Online-Pivot/248239).


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