Teaching in the era of Covid-19 is, in many ways, surprisingly more normal than I anticipated. In other ways it’s radically different. My day now begins at 4:30 am. Having to commute from New York to New Jersey for an 8 am course, I take the first departing subway and train in order to minimise the number of people with whom I come into contact and to ride in freshly sterilised seats. I never thought I’d find the smell of cleaning chemicals overpowering my olfactory sense so reassuring.
Any fatigue immediately dissipates once I start teaching, thanks to my incredible and resilient students who are more eager than ever to learn in spite of the trying circumstances. Approximately five students show up in person each day, social distancing of course, while fifteen or so join remotely. The remote students appear on a large screen in the back of the classroom. Multiple cameras and microphones in the classroom allow us to see each other and interact in real time. This technology, along with my students’ Herculean effort to make the most of their education, approximates the traditional classroom experience. Though it cannot perfectly capture this experience, it’s seemingly the best option at our particular school at this particular moment.
Travis Timmerman is an assistant professor in the philosophy department at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.
When Rice initially proposed constructing temporary “tents” for socially distanced teaching, the administration suggested students would have to bring their own portable chairs and insect repellent. I imagined the misery of teaching in a plain canvas tent, sweltering in the Houston heat while being swarmed by mosquitoes. Wanting to experience first-hand this one of many 2020 horrors, I was thrilled to discover my course would be held inside one of the tents.
On the first day of class I was astonished to arrive at an impressively complete soft-shelled building with every amenity: smooth concrete floor, fully stocked with desks and chairs, equipped with various dual-delivery technologies, and most importantly, perfectly cooled by a massive air-conditioning system. The tents are, more or less, indistinguishable from any other classroom.
Aside from a tropical storm disrupting the tent’s electrical system – I did endure teaching without AC for that one day – my tent experience has gone surprisingly smoothly.
Darren Medeiros is a Ph.D. candidate teaching in the philosophy department at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
In response to the pandemic, most of the faculty at our community college have committed to teaching asynchronously online for the foreseeable future. I have many students who qualify as essential workers, are parents of young children, or have experienced homelessness during this pandemic; ensuring flexibility for students is thereby paramount.
Creating an active learning environment for students asynchronously online requires creativity, planning, technical know-how, hard work…and the willingness to fail miserably. Organising small-group discussions in a physical classroom is easy. But chaos ensued when I encouraged students to decide on a one-to-two-day time period for their small group discussions online. Most groups spent the week having deep discussions about when to have the discussion.
Yet, these challenges make moments of successful student engagement even more rewarding. For example, I created an optional discussion thread where students could post photos of their pets or kids. A day later, I discovered more than a dozen photos of pets, along with “likes” and discussion on each photo. This impromptu exercise encouraged students to become more fully committed to one another and to the course.
Kirsten Egerstrom is full-time philosophy instructor and discipline lead for philosophy at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington.
What an enormous treat it used to be to have a day I didn’t have to go work on campus. I could stay in jeans or jammies while my kids went off to school and my husband went off to work. No interruptions from colleagues. No students looking for help. Just me and my dogs. The music of my choice. A perfect stretch of time to myself to get some real work done – be it writing or grading or prepping class.
Now, seven months into this whole pandemic, working at home has a radically different vibe. The kids are in and out of my workspace all day long, inevitably sending their homework assignments to the noisy printer on my desk when I’m in the middle of recording virtual lectures. It’s always just before I need to start the Zoom call for my class that they discover they can’t find their homework (or their phone, their charging cords, their earbuds….) And as cute as the dogs may be, why must they always pick the exact moment I’ve unmuted myself to find their squeaky toy and start fighting over it?
What an enormous treat it would be to have a day I could go work on campus…
Amy Kind is Russell K. Pitzer professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.
I am teaching in-person this semester – the only person in my department doing so, and one of a very small number across the university. Each Tuesday morning, I walk across the mostly empty campus to the mostly empty building where my class of nine students meets in a room designed to seat 80. We sit in socially distanced desks, masks on, with the air conditioning turned up so high that my reading glasses fog up almost immediately. I pass around the handouts, we crack open our books, and the morning is spent working through the arguments.
It’s an awkward situation, surely, but one that I prefer strongly to the awkward farce of “meeting” over Zoom. And I know from talking to my students that each of them feels the same. While I don’t for a moment begrudge anyone the choice to stay isolated during these scary and uncertain times, I do think it’s best to try and gather safely when we can. Is the safety in this case absolute? Of course not – but nor do I think it should be. We all weigh risks constantly, and the real gains of coming together in a classroom make these ones easily worthwhile.
John Schwenkler is professor of philosophy at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.
One of the surprising delights of teaching on Zoom is the chat. Initially I thought it would be a distracting temptation for students to gossip about nonsense during class, but it turned out to be the opposite entirely – on-topic, smart, at times poignant, and, above all, hilarious. Here are some genuine excerpts (edited only for privacy).
So, in the “Experience Machine” thought experiment, the machine can simulate perfectly any imaginable experience… would you plug in to a lifetime in the Experience Machine, rather than continue with a life in the real world?…
14:16:00 From Regina: I mean I’m hoppin in let’s go
14:16:04 From Keifer: ^^^
14:16:04 From Lily: ^^
14:16:19 From Yea Won: especially in 2020
14:16:26 From Lily: :’(
14:16:36 From Abdul: Setting timer to: Get me out when covid’s over
According to the Desire Satisfaction Theory, the satisfaction of desires constitutes an intrinsic improvement in wellbeing. But consider this counterexample, from the philosopher Simon Keller: suppose I desire to eat a bowl of gravel ….
14:46:27 From Rodrigo : PICA?
14:46:47 From Annie: tidepods challenge?
14:46:56 From Rodrigo: AH
14:46:57 From Yea Won: eating a buckyball
14:47:05 From Tomás: Real Life story of Tarrare?
14:47:06 From Sean: There was a guy who ate a small plane over a few years
14:47:16 From Rodrigo: Hydroxychloroquine?
14:47:22 From Rodrigo: too soon ^^^
14:47:26 From Lily: I’m dead lol
14:47:32 From Lily: ^
Gwen Bradford is Associate Professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
I am a critic of the hybrid teaching model that many universities have adopted that involves teachers attempting to focus on students in physical classrooms at the very same time as attempting to focus on students attending the classes remotely (see my “False Advertising and the In-Person Experience” in Inside Higher Ed, August 12, 2020). My objections have been principled, rather than personal. I have permission to teach my own courses fully remotely.
Long before Covid-19 reared its ugly head in the United States, a schedule of my department’s courses for this semester was created, and, for the first time in my teaching career, I was informed I would be teaching two graduate student courses (I normally teach one advanced course and an Introduction to Ethics course). One is the PhD first year proseminar, and the other is a seminar on reasons and normativity. My classes each have six or seven students, and each class meets twice a week on Zoom. These classes are going extremely well! It turns out that small seminar classes are no worse on Zoom than in person. I realise I am very fortunate, and am not looking forward to teaching Introduction to Ethics remotely to a large number of undergraduates next semester.
Daniel Star is an associate professor of philosophy at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts.
During the time of Covid-19, I’ve been teaching online. My school switched once the virus hit and we haven’t come back.
This fall semester is working out much better than the initial switch. Last spring, we continued having class meetings online on the class’s original schedule, which just didn’t work out well: for students to spend all that time “in class” online and then do more schoolwork was just too much.
This semester I am meeting classes on Zoom once a week and am available for students to “pop in” on Zoom the other days. This is working and students say they prefer it over classes with no scheduled meetings.
Online classes are a lot of work: for in-person classes, just showing up is part of the “work,” and so without that there’s a lot more written work (that needs to be graded!). And their “showing up” result in them learning things that they aren’t as effectively getting on their own. It’s hard to have a clear sense of which form of classes results in more learning.
What’s clear though is that online courses aren’t the best for positive personal connections, which I miss in teaching, and I know many students miss that too: they want to be back in the classroom with their peers, and I hope with me too!
Nathan Nobis is a professor of philosophy at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.