Editor’s note: As we approached the anniversary of the widespread campus disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we reached out to winners of the 2020 VCCS outstanding faculty awards, asking them to share their thoughts about the challenges they faced. We’re grateful to the following faculty who responded.
Central Virginia Community College psychology professor Julie Piercy received the Susan S. Wood professorship for Teaching Excellence for 2020. Dr. Piercy called her reflections about the past year “Teaching through the Storm.”
Dismissing my students to enjoy spring break on March 9, 2020, I encouraged them to take inventory of their computer and internet resources “just in case,” the coronavirus threat proves formidable. Almost exactly one year later, our learning experience is ostensibly unrecognizable. We are noticeably absent from the physical campus and notably characterized by a physically distanced “new normal.”
Our essential function, however, persists unchanged. We remain dedicated to encouragement of critical thinking and elaboration upon core concepts of course material. We find ourselves challenging the limits of our teaching parameters to reach students across the divide of cyberspace. Through the seemingly unprecedented turmoil that characterizes the environment in which we teach, we find solace in the grace of teaching and learning. Our Zoom classes become the setting for connection among students and teachers and our online offerings provide a reliable source of structure in an unreliable era. Our new normal offers flexibility as students enjoy novel comfort of learning with their children on their laps, their pets at their feet and their homes or workplaces in the background.
As educators we remain challenged to equitably serve our communities as technological infrastructure differentially challenges our constituents, further barricading already disadvantaged students.
Even as vaccines suggest a return to familiar educational models, our forecast includes consideration of the hoards of students excluded from the online learning environment necessitated by the pandemic.
One year of teaching through the “storm” of the pandemic illuminated the need for flexibility in our paradigm. Our forecast of teaching as we navigate a return to a “new normal” must include innovative and thoughtful consideration of students left behind by the Zoom learning train. We look forward to the challenge of welcoming these students back to the path to the success of their lives and livelihoods.
Lord Fairfax Community College IT instructor Mark Sunderlin was recognized in the 2020 awards as one of the system’s outstanding adjunct faculty members. As you’ll see, his students needed some major technology adjustments, but he learned they didn’t mind his pandemic era appearance:
When the first order came to “Teach from Home,” my initial thoughts were that since I had a great deal of experience with holding briefings and meetings via video conferencing with my Verizon co-workers in other countries, this was going to be “No Problem.” Since I teach IT classes, I assumed my students had experience with video conferencing and screen sharing. I was wrong.
Some students didn’t have sufficiently powerful a computer to run the software for my class and Zoom on the same computer at the same time. Some, unfamiliar with remote screen sharing, found themselves embarrassed as various, not classroom related, windows would pop up while they were sharing their work with me.
I took some time out of the normal class schedule to share with my students the “Best Practices for Video conferencing” we use at Verizon and this seemed to help. Students learned they can connect to Zoom via their smart phone or tablet, freeing up their computer for classwork. They learned it’s best to close all “social media” apps while in online class. Things went much more smoothly after this.
By the time Fall Semester 2020 came around, I hadn’t been to a barbershop in months. I was worried my students would not take this “mountain man” as a serious IT professional. I should have had more faith. My students really didn’t care about my looks, they were looking for me to share with them my experience and knowledge and the “Packaging” didn’t matter much to them.
A surprise in the fall was the student reaction to my recorded screen captures of myself doing walk-throughs of various harder computer labs and exercises. I had thought students would not like it as much as doing these walk-throughs “live” where they could ask questions and interact with me. To my surprise, students reported they preferred the prerecorded sessions as they could watch them multiple times and could even watch them as they did the exercises for themselves, starting and stopping my video as they progressed through the lab or exercise.
Rappahannock Community College culinary arts professor Hatley Bright received the VCCS’s highest faculty honor for 2020. The Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence is conferred to a single instructor who distinctly represents the teaching excellence found at Virginia’s Community Colleges.
The interruption of face-to-face classes posed a somewhat unique challenge for me because I teach culinary arts, a very hands-on field. In my Introduction to Baking class, I had to create a means for students to evaluate some parts of the rubric I had set in place.
I could evaluate some elements of their projects such as appearance and texture, but not taste.
There is a learning curve involved when a student begins to practice self-evaluation. Many students were unnecessarily hard on themselves. Creating a rubric designed to allow the student to know what is being assessed was very important. I had to give very clear guidance about what success meant.
Getting students to be a realistic judge of their own work took time. I found one of the best methods to alleviate the self-deprecation was peer-to-peer discussion. It is a method I use in the classroom but needed to tweak for online use. It took a great deal of encouragement from classmates to learn how to use this experience in order to become more self-aware.
I am back in the classroom (in much smaller classes) but can see how those peer to peer online discussions have transformed face to face classroom discussions.