Although it will stay hot in Kentucky for quite a while, we are firmly in “fall” mode. Sydney and I just survived our first week back at school, and it has thrown us a number of curve balls: how to be heard through a mask, how to hear through our students’ masks, how to recognize students wearing masks, and how not to get a massive headache if you bring any of your usual energy to a masked class hour. That’s just the mask stuff. Other things have shifted, too. You know the “ick” factor of picking up an abandoned hairband from the ground? Yeah, well, now we apply that to everything from door handles to paper handouts.
This, of course, is after we battled some of the bigger issues. How do we not let new requirements that we be ready to shift online and help students who are forced to go online keep us from investing in the in-person conversations that we think are essential to our disciplines? The answer, as we argued to our administrators, is work. There is no shortcut: to do right by our online students and to create a strong conversation community for our in-seat students is to tailor classes differently for those two modes. I did offer an optional Zoom session yesterday for my classes, and it reminded me why I have no desire to just “talk at” a screen full of blank Zoom boxes, or even (for those who had their cameras on) at a screen full of dorm rooms, with my students’ roommates wandering through the background! Even if I could bring myself to do it, my students aren’t able to hold a strong conversation among themselves in that mode, and that is my main goal with class discussion.
I’ve taken my classes outside, and will plan on being a campus spectacle for the rest of the fall. I’ll keep working on getting students to speak up over the cicadas. Sydney will keep working to figure out a way to read his students’ expressions and personalities despite the cloth over their faces. We both demand a lot of class participation, which is particularly challenging this year. Interestingly, my 8am class elected to continue meeting in person even though I offered to meet them over Zoom on Fridays. I was surprised and pleased by that choice, given the unpopular class hour! Students are more overwhelmed than usual, and the combination of in-seat classes but also much activity on the course website has meant that we’re responding to a lot of emails and repeating a lot of information.