By: Alex Miller
Sunlight floods the room. Desks shift, their unmistakable horn-like groan heard in classrooms across the building as students open laptops, find a pen, turn a blank page in their notebooks and look up. A new day has begun as students and faculty across campus put their foot on the gas and don’t turn back as classes on Zoom become a thing of the past.
Full in-person classes last semester began the shift back from being taught on Zoom. But just like with adjusting to remote classes, re-adjusting to interpersonal interaction and the classroom atmosphere can take time.
“I get the sense that about half of my students are a little fatigued with the slideshow presentations, so for one of my classes I’ve just decided to not do any slides at all,” says Mariel Rodney, an associate of literature professor. This “pre-tech” space, as Rodney calls it, provides a buffer for these students.
“We’re just talking and it’s just us with the book in the hand, and people are just saying ‘I love this scene’, ‘I love this section,’ ‘what does this mean,’ ‘could this mean this weird thing here?’ and that’s been really nice to get them to kind of ease off of the fatigue,” says Rodney.
Jessica Levy, an assistant professor of history who started teaching at Purchase in January of 2020, had a different tool both on Zoom and then kept it as she returned to the classroom. “I am a professor who, in the classroom, I write all over the board,” she says. “I like to move around, and that gets confined on Zoom, so I started using a shared Google doc that I titled ‘The Whiteboard’ and I would write on the ‘whiteboard,’ upload a copy of it to Moodle and then erase it, like you would a real whiteboard.”
Levy’s use of her digital whiteboard as a tool during the pandemic became something that she transferred over to the classroom as in-person classes began again. Even with access to a normal whiteboard, Levy’s idea of having a shared copy of the discussion that took place in class that day was one of the main reasons for her to keep the digital whiteboard as classes went from synchronous/asynchronous to fully synchronous again.
The whirlwind-like movements that Levy uses while she writes on the actual whiteboard is another reason that she kept the shared document. “It’s also easier for students to have the whiteboard on Moodle than trying to decipher my writing on the whiteboard in class,” she jokes.
Although Levy found a way to turn her computer back into a classroom, something was off. “I missed the synchronous-ness of teaching,” Levy said. “So even in moving back to campus, one of the things I’ve really enjoyed is that when it’s class time, I’m there with my class.”
While some faculty found a smooth transition back to the classroom, other members began questioning norms associated with teaching. “I guess I was trying to decide, when I came back, should we just go back to normal or should I learn something from the past year?” says Christian Bailey, also a history professor. “On the one hand I’m wondering can we offer a variety of deliveries that allow students to work through the material in a variety of ways? But on the other hand, I also think that we all over-estimate our abilities to multitask,” he says.
How information is disseminated is a point of contention for Bailey. “The way historians lecture hasn’t changed greatly over the last 150 years and it’s amazing that students have just accepted that all this time. Now students are wondering about how teachers could make things more project-based or things like that,” he explains.
For history classes, the method of showing up, getting lectured to, and leaving seems to be dissipating according to Bailey. He believes college as an institution is at a crossroads. “COVID added a sort of urgency for the problems that were already there, like: how we do [college] education, wanting different modes of delivery, and how there are different ways of retrieving information now with the internet.”
The answers are out there somewhere. But for now, the emphasis is on breaking away from the screen, no matter the situation. “I just want people to try to find ways to start a conversation. Take the conversation from the classroom and put that into the spaces that you naturally inhabit,” says Rodney. Her desire is certain: to become a community again.