Reopening, Part 3: Faculty prepare for a hybrid semester

| Multimedia Editor

Student Life Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein explores the experiences of Washington University community members as the school prepares to open for a fall semester like no other. This three-part series focuses on first-years, international students and faculty members as we lead up to the start of classes.

With a hybrid semester, faculty members had a decision to make: To teach in-person or stay fully remote. With course quality, safety and other personal considerations to take into account, we explore how professors made that choice.

Graphic by HN Hoffmann and Christine Watridge

The transcript of the episode can be found below. It has been lightly edited for clarity:

ROBERT MARK MORGAN (0:05-0:23): I kind of miss the part of my life where I got dressed and wore slacks and went to my office. You know, that there was a.. There’s a very healthy separation, I think, between work and home that exists when you’re allowed to leave home.

Jaden Satenstein (0:27-1:13): I’m Multimedia Editor Jaden Satenstein and you’re listening to Reopening, a Student Life audio series exploring the experiences of Washington University community members as the school prepares to open for an unprecedented fall semester.

Today we learn how faculty members made a major decision: To teach in person, or stay remote?

Drama professor and Beyond Boundaries program director Robert Mark Morgan isn’t a fan of working from home. With his wife and two adult stepchildren in his house, teaching Zoom classes can be challenging. Still, he’s decided to conduct his courses fully remotely this fall. The large enrollments of two of his classes forced them to be remote, but he held a Zoom meeting with students in his third class, Scenic Design, to discuss options.

RMM (1:14-1:46): I talked to them about how, you know, “What if we all learn Sketch Up,” which is a 3D modeling program. “What if we spend some time learning Sketch Up and design in that kind of environment and then literally share our models in an augmented reality way?” And I kind of showed them some demos of what I was thinking about, and they all seemed excited about it. So, from there, I moved forward, you know, including the students in on the decision-making process, you might say. I wanted to sort of see if they thought, ‘Oh, this sounds lame, or, ‘This sounds exciting.’

JS (1:47-2:01): Morgan is looking forward to experimenting with new technology and welcoming a new cohort of Beyond Boundaries students this semester. Still, a fear of outbreaks weighs heavily on him. He worries about the health of his students and the St. Louis community at large.

RMM (2:02-2:18): You know, I used to wake up from a nightmare. You know, like you have a nightmare and you wake up and you’re like, ‘Whew, good thing that was a nightmare.’ And now I kind of wake up into the nightmare. I’m like, ‘Oh wait, it’s another day during a global pandemic that we need to, you know, be on guard.’

JS (2:19-2:31): For courses small enough to allow for physical distancing in the classroom, Provost Beverly Wendland said that professors were given a good deal of freedom over the choice to teach either fully online or in a hybrid format that allows for partial in-person instruction.

BEVERLY WENDLAND (2:32-2:50): You know, we just had a fairly liberal policy about allowing our faculty to declare their preference and then work with their department chairs to make sure that the curriculum was going to be able to be offered as needed for the students.

JS (2:51-3:03): History department chair Peter Kastor also worries about his students, colleagues and loved ones contracting COVID-19. Still, he said he feels confident about teaching in-person because of the safety measures the University has taken.

PETER KASTOR (3:04-3:14): I have faith in the people who designed this. I did going into it, but also in the sense that I know they’ve done everything they possibly can to make things as safe as they can possibly be.

JS (3:15-3:34): Since his class, The Presidency 101: From Washington to Trump, is a small, discussion-based First-Year Seminar, Kastor thought in-person learning would be preferable for both him and his students. But he noted that not having any immediate family members in high risk categories gave him a freedom of choice that not all his colleagues enjoy.

PK (3:35-4:05): The primary concern was what would work best for my students, but I was able to think in those terms because there are other factors that wouldn’t make me choose to teach remote. And many, many faculty, I’m sure, have all of these concerns, where for their own health and safety, it was not just preferable to teach remote, it was mandatory. And, fortunately, I don’t have that restriction, so I can teach in person.

JS (4:06-4:23): Education department chair Andrew Butler decided to teach his class, Educational Psychology, remotely this fall for a number of reasons. For one, he had safety concerns about possibly exposing older people in his bubble to COVID-19. But he also saw it as a way to make sure every student has an equitable experience with the course.

ANDREW BUTLER (4:24-4:42): But then also to give kind of everybody the same experience in the sense of not having some people in class, while having other people who are remote and being worried about you know, making sure that their experiences are, you know, equivalent, because they can’t possibly be exactly the same.

JS (4:43-5:01): When speaking to Student Life back in March, some students expressed frustration with online classes. But Wendland thinks these past few months of preparation will significantly improve how faculty deliver online materials. Faculty members spent the summer taking courses through the Center for Teaching and Learning on how to adapt their syllabi to better fit a virtual format.

BW (5:02-5:34): The uptake of our faculty in taking the time to invest more energy into shifting their courses and developing their curriculum in a way that was adaptable for this kind of hybrid world that we’re in right now was really inspiring. I know that the faculty really care about how they’re able to continue doing their instruction in a way that will be optimal for the student experience.

JS (5:35-5:44): In learning to make her courses more adaptable, biomedical engineering professor Patricia Widder feels she’s actually improved them.

PATRICIA WIDDER (5:45-6:18): It has really made me and my colleagues examine how we deliver our material and what material we deliver to see, what are the ways we can make it more accessible? What are the ways we can make it more clear and transparent? What are the ways we can make it more available to students in ways that are useful to them? So, you know, I think we’re all going to be better teachers because of these experiences. I know I feel like I will.

JS (6:19-6:34): Cheryl Wassenaar, who teaches design in the Sam Fox School, also sees this as an opportunity to reinvision her instruction. She was on leave in the spring and said she felt a bit behind the curve on remote teaching technologies, so she’s spent the summer trying to get as prepared as possible for her hybrid class.

CHERYL WASSENAAR (6:35-7:14) I think that some of the kind of shifting to learning these different platforms is actually going to make for some better teaching in some ways for me. I’m being challenged to think through whether a video would be a better way to make a point or whether, you know, a discussion would be a better way to do it. So I’m really thinking through things that I’ve done for a long time. I’ve taught the class for, you know, going on 20 years and this is I think going to refresh a little bit about the way that I do things.

JS (7:15-7:18): Above all, Wassenaar can’t wait to finally interact with students again.

CW (7:19-7:42): I’m always excited to meet the students. I mean, that’s the best part about teaching, is getting to know your students. And, you know, we’re really lucky that we have small classes that we spend a lot of time with our students and so, you know, we really do get to know them and, you know, hearing their stories and kind of knowing why they’re here is always, always exciting, especially in the fall.

JS (7:43-7:53): Kastor also said he’s always excited to work with students, and that this semester is no different in that regard. But he also said he recognizes the enormous sense of loss students must feel right now.

PK (7:54-8:47): It’s not whether, on any given day, this is harder for you or harder for me or easier for you or easier for me. It’s that you get one shot at college. You get four years in college, and the disruption of this moment… And Wash. U. students, they come to Wash. U. because they want to be in a classroom with other great students working with great faculty and to be part of a campus community and part of a campus environment. We’ve lost all of that during the pandemic. But the percentage of your undergraduate career that will be affected by this is much, much higher than the percentage of my professional career. And that’s the thing I try, I always try to keep in mind as I think about how this would be experienced by an undergraduate versus how it’s experienced by me.

JS (8:49-8:53): For Student Life media, I’m Jaden Satenstein.

“Reopening, Part 3: Faculty prepare for a hybrid semester” can also be found on Apple Podcasts and Soundcloud.

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