close-up reflection in water with red tints

It Wasn’t Just a Pandemic: Reflections – Segment 2

Overview | Segment 2 videoSegment 1 Reflections  | Segment 3 Reflections

In “It Wasn’t Just a Pandemic,” our colleagues, razor sharp despite visible fatigue, look toward an unpredictable fall semester and identify the human energy and technological resources required to responsibly adapt new modalities of teaching and learning to disciplinary content and pedagogy. Their conversation, recorded on Zoom, edited for length and segmented into four parts of approximately twenty-minutes each, concludes with remarks by President Adams. Written reflections by participants are featured on each Segment page.

On the value of asynchronous teaching and learning
Patricia Sokolski, Humanities

The asynchronous teaching modality helped me rethink my role as an instructor in the Introduction to Communication course. In the face-to-face classroom, I relied on student verbal feedback and reactions to modify activities, assignments, and revise the syllabus. In the absence of these regular in-person exchanges, I found it challenging to adapt to student learning styles and preferences. Fortunately, in the three-week CUNY Online Teaching Essentials workshop, I learned to design a more detailed and predictable syllabus that students could easily follow on their own. To address different learning styles and preferences, I included choices for materials and options for activities. For example, students could decide whether to read, watch, and/or listen to class content, and whether to respond in the discussion board and/or in a separate assignment. I refrained from improvising and making changes that would disrupt the routine established at the beginning of the semester, and began to appreciate the predictability and pace of the asynchronous class. Without a clock indicating the end of class, and no pressure to react and respond immediately, students had more time for understanding, and I had more time for thoughtful feedback.

After more than a year of teaching both synchronously and asynchronously during COVID-19, I am looking ahead to what I will leave behind and what I will keep when I return to campus to teach a hybrid format of the Introduction to Communication Studies course.  I’d like to leave behind flexible due dates in both the asynchronous and face-to-face classrooms. Flexibility works for students who have developed time management skills. For others, despite the reminders on Blackboard or in class, the lack of firm deadlines can contribute to procrastination and a rush to complete multiple assignments at the end of the semester. But firm deadlines alone will not work unless I assist students in managing time by enforcing due dates.

On the other hand, there are practices that I will adopt from one modality of instruction to the other. For example, I will copy the Blackboard layout I designed for the asynchronous class  to the Blackboard site for my face-to-face course. I found that presenting material, activities, and assignments in themed modules of varying lengths prevented monotony and clarified course organization. With fewer questions about logistics, we can use the two-hour in person sessions more effectively. Developed for the synchronous class, the option to complete an in-class activity online will remain available for students who may miss an in-person session or may need more time. Finally, as I will continue to teach the Introduction to Communication course asynchronously, I will add the option for students to submit a personal introduction and possibly other assignments in an audio or video format that demonstrates styles of speaking and nonverbal communication, the modes of communication mostly used in face-to-face interactions. I hope that seeing and/or hearing one another will increase student engagement.

Before the pandemic, I was content in the classroom and uninterested in teaching the fully online courses already offered in the Communication Studies program. After a year, and while I have much more to learn, I realize the experience of teaching asynchronously has made me a more intentional and patient instructor.

What We’ve Learned, How We’ve Changed, and What We Want in Our Future as Educators
Tuli Chatterji, English

As an educator, the shift to remote learning was an eye-opening experience. Though I was aware of how busily our students juggle life and work, mine was the knowledge of the outsider, a professor who entered the class, taught, and left, receiving the occasional request for an extension. When the pandemic struck, I realized that I knew very little about my students’ lived experiences.

Unfortunately, educators and students are expected to keep our personal selves outside the classroom, but it is almost impossible to compartmentalize these two selves: one is bound to affect the other. For me, the pandemic opened doors, and I bonded with my students in ways that I had never thought possible; it was a change that shifted the entire classroom dynamic. I learned about my students’ work lives, domestic challenges, and children; I learned about their eagerness to serve and their resilience. They trusted me with their stories and I shared my experiences, too. I remember one afternoon, in my Literary Theory class, when it suddenly started to rain very heavily, just half an hour before my son’s school bus is scheduled to drop him off. I hesitatingly asked my class if I could end class ten minutes early; I wanted to run to the bus stop with an umbrella. But I was so absorbed in our  discussions that I forgot time. Suddenly, one of my very engaged students reminded me that I should hurry so that my son didn’t get wet. I will never forget that moment.

The pandemic taught me to celebrate life and little things that, as an educator, I often missed when trying to focus on my syllabus, meetings, deadlines, and so on. It taught me to help my students relax, and enjoy the moment and their achievements instead of what they may have missed. In turn, they shared their frustrations and joys with me. As a result, my approach towards pedagogy changed. For instance:

  • I started recording every synchronous class to make sure that those who couldn’t join were able to watch the class at their convenience.
  • I met with my students, also at their convenience, sometimes late into the evening. I conducted lots of one-on-one sessions and was able to give more individual attention than before.
  • I relaxed my deadlines and eliminated penalties for late submissions.
  • My assignments changed, too. They became very detailed, so that even without attending the synchronous sessions, students fresh from high school and returning adults received necessary course information about what to read, how to read, and the rationale behind each reading and assignment.
  • We started to enjoy the holistic process of learning instead of viewing the course in terms of getting a grade.

I know for sure that when I return to in-person learning, I will continue with this new approach to teaching and learning. I have always viewed education as a form of service achieved only when the mind, body, and spirit meet. Even though I have always practiced reflective pedagogy, the pandemic and remote learning made me aware of the limitations of my practice. In the same way that my students had locked their lives away from each other, I too was scared to turn the key to the door between my lived experience and my professional life. Over time, we shared our vulnerabilities and celebrated connections; many of us felt more secure in being visible in our home environments. Reading bell hooks’s “Engaged Pedagogy in this year’s DEI seminar, I learned that her pedagogical approach was shaped as much by the non-western Buddhist philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh as it was by Paulo Freire. I now feel more confident and prepared to respond to the demands and realities of lived experience.

On student expectations of faculty
Tara Coleman, English

I have been thinking about what to share and it’s hard to pick one thing, but I think that the last year mostly emphasized things we already knew. For example, given the time and space, our students can do incredible and creative work, and many have been doing inspiring thinking and writing in my classes. At the same time, many of our students have a lot of expectations about what college will be like—especially what faculty can and should be doing—that are very different from our practices.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we might explore those disconnects. For example, students don’t understand that faculty have obligations outside of teaching, so if they are unsuccessful in trying to find a faculty member, either in their office or by clicking on a Zoom link not intended to be live at all times, they sometimes jump to negative conclusions about the faculty member. How can we alleviate some of those gaps and misunderstandings that tend to impact the student-faculty relationship and ultimately student learning?

On identity and collaboration
Wendy Nicholson,
Student Affairs

I believe faculty and facilitators of campus events struggle with providing our full selves as educators due to the in-the-face challenges and realities of dealing with the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism. How can LaGuardia provide collaborative learning spaces where we learn from, support, and encourage each other?