Section: Features

Kenyon professors adjust to teaching their courses virtually

After moving to remote classes over two weeks ago in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, students have begun to adjust to learning away from the Hill. However, students are not alone in this change; teaching remotely has presented professors with new challenges, requiring them to rethink the time-tested ways they have operated both in and out of the classroom.

“I felt like I was a brand-new faculty member again, in terms of the planning and the prep, because I’ve never taught remotely before,” Assistant Professor of Political Science Jacqueline McAllister said. “A lot of [the] lecture and comments I would [normally] do … at the start of the class, I have to do that all ahead of time now and write it all up and post it.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology Jessica Chandras echoed this sentiment.

“I had to really radically think about how I delivered information and what I wanted to get out of the delivery of information,” she said.

Both she and McAllister emphasized the need for flexibility in these difficult times. “Being more open and flexible and kind and compassionate to other people’s experiences seems to be working [well],” Chandras said.

Chandras has opted not to hold class over Google Meet, and has moved all of class discussion onto web-based platforms like Moodle forums. Other professors, including McAllister and Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski, have increased their use of Moodle while continuing to hold class over Google Meet, which has been generally successful.

“What has been really, really pleasant for me is to actually see my students in their home environments and get to know them as individuals,” Slonczewski said. “Actually, in some ways, I see them more closely [than at Kenyon], because I see them up there on the screen [in] their home environment[s] … and also hear more about their families and what they’re going through.”

While McAllister also acknowledged how nice it was to see her students on a screen, she maintained that certain elements of the physical classroom experience will not be present in a Google Meet class.

“There are a lot of things [that], as a professor, you pick up on in physical interactions with students. You can see their expressions, or you get used to a certain routine of seeing people around a room and reading the room to know who you can draw in or who’s thinking or who’s not thinking,” she said. “So going to a two-dimensional space where you can’t see [those] signals is a lot different.”

Some professors have embraced their creative sides in order to keep both students and themselves engaged with material. Associate Professor of Philosophy Jason Waller, for instance, has been making “musical intros” at the beginning of his video lectures.

“[The] ‘musical intros’ … let me set the tone before the lecture[s],” Waller wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Working on these fun little musical intros has been my major creative outlet during these times.”

However, some professors have had to get more creative than others.

“I don’t think there’s any one-size-fits-all solution [for remote classes], just because what students need to do to meet the learning goals for each class is a little bit different,” Dean of Academic Advising and Support Thomas Hawks said.

Many professors who teach fine arts or natural science courses and now lack many of the resources necessary for continuing with regular class activities, have had to be incredibly innovative.

Professor of Art Gregory Spaid is currently teaching two darkroom photography classes, and now has to reimagine everything about them.

“[Now,] everything is digital. I try to keep it very simple, and everyone is invited to use their phones … [which] works beautifully, actually, because the quality of the images is really quite good,” Spaid said.

The larger challenge for Spaid has been redesigning the remainder of his assignments for the semester.

“Photography, in general, is a medium where often it’s about sort of going out into the world and doing something with a camera,” he said. “A lot of my assignments would have assumed that someone can go out into the world and make images, and I can’t assume that anymore.”

Spaid has therefore proposed a variety of new projects, several of which require students to utilize images in Google Earth and Google Maps; if students cannot “go out into the world” themselves, at least Google can.

In labs, many classes are studying data that they generated prior to spring break and that past classes collected in lieu of performing labs. Some classes, however, have been less fortunate; as Slonczewski noted, most of the Introduction to Experimental Biology (BIOL 110Y) projects will not be completed as originally planned.

The sense of community among Kenyon students and professors has always been central to Kenyon’s identity. But the COVID-19 crisis has made campus unity more important than ever, not only for students, but for professors, too. It has caused professors to value their relationships with students and their fellow faculty members even more as they enter uncharted territory.

“[Professors] all really care about all [students] so, so much, and are working really, really, really hard to give you guys the best possible learning experience possible. … We may not get it right all the time, but we are definitely trying to do so, and really engage in the essence of humane learning and teaching that helps everybody transcend into a happy space of thoughts, and figuring out puzzles at a time where having that transcendence is more important than ever,” McAllister said.

Slonczewski agreed. “I think the most important thing is to maintain personal connections… The phrase ‘social distancing’ is really incorrect. It should be physical distancing, because we need to maintain personal, social connections with other people [and] with our community to remember that the Kenyon community persists and that we will get through this together.”

Though remote learning may pose challenges for students and professors alike, the Kenyon community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that it is a community that supports each other in times of struggle, whether on or off the Hill.

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