Distance learning has upended a key component of academic life at Kenyon: student-faculty relationships. Students and faculty choose Kenyon because of the bonds that can be built in small, active classrooms. Just like maintaining friendships during social distancing requires a mix of patience and ingenuity, so too must the Kenyon community adapt to maintain a sense of normalcy.
Students, we need to engage with faculty outside of the classroom in nontraditional ways. For each course, we normally only get about three hours of instruction time per week. With remote learning, this amount of time is often altered or functionally different. In courses where class has become a thrice-weekly pre-recorded lecture, the lack of opportunities for engagement means a vital component of learning is lost.
Learning is a dialectical process. At Kenyon, education is relational. We learn best when we ask questions, offer answers, have our ideas challenged and learn to better articulate our thoughts. In lieu of in-class opportunities to do this, students should take a chance to reach out to professors, to email them questions, to utilize video-chat office hours and to request to talk further about a concept on the phone.
Furthermore, we should reach out to professors because they probably want to hear from us. Professors are people, too. Just as we sit around our homes, alone and awaiting the next phone call from a friend, our professors are probably in a similar boat. Just as we came to expect near-constant human interaction at Kenyon, so did they. Kenyon is a good place to learn in part because our community makes it so warm. It is important that the virtual classroom is not one of impersonal coldness.
With professors’ offices accessible only on a screen rather than just a short walk from our dorms, we need to be more intentional about maintaining our relationships with them. We need to ensure that deep knowledge that emerges out of one-on-one student-to-faculty interactions are not lost in this time of social distancing.
The educational process, though, comes from a reservoir of trust that forms between students and faculty. Just as faculty expect us to engage meaningfully with course material in and outside of the classroom, so too should faculty make sure that the work they give us is meaningful. This, too, takes a little more intentionality when learning is remote.
Just as it’s easier for students to disengage from some of the more personal components of a Kenyon education, so too is it easier for faculty to assign work that is more simply completed remotely — more individual work, more small assignments that verify students are reading and, in the experience of some of our peers, more busywork.
Remote learning will be different. We will all spend more time studying alone and our professors will have to accept that differing access to the internet or other resources will make their interactions with each student variable.
Despite the inequities, inconveniences and challenges of remote coursework, though, students and faculty both have an obligation to preserve that which draws us to a Kenyon education in the first place. Education at Kenyon means an emphasis on good writing, on communicating ideas, on questioning challenging readings or mathematical proofs and on creativity, whether in positing a research question or approaching a photography assignment. Education at Kenyon means having others there learning alongside you, pushing you in the right direction.
Kenyon is not about gleaning the basic facts from a PowerPoint posted on Moodle. Kenyon is about the deep knowledge that can only come from a powerful relationship between students and teachers. These meaningful connections are in part how we justify the College’s exorbitant sticker price to ourselves. To make sure that Kenyon continues to be as meaningful and worthwhile as possible, let us do our best to preserve the best parts of a Kenyon education, even if our medium is a laptop rather than a lectern or seminar table.
The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Becca Foley ’20 and Adam Schwager ’20 and executive director Tommy Johnson ’20. You can contact them at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.