May 14, 2021 | NEWS | By April Kwan
No question, this year has looked quite different than previous ones. Just a quick recap — we’re in the middle of a pandemic. It’s been a challenge from the start, from life taking a pause to slowly navigating reopening plans.
Opening up school again has posed quite a few challenges for the Colorado College community. The college went from all three residence halls quarantined and campus closing down for the fall semester, to having students back for spring semester and offering some aspects of in-person class.
Professors at CC have had to adapt to changes by reworking lessons plans, utilizing new technology and restructuring classes.
“You can’t have 25 people on Zoom having a meaningful discussion,” said Professor Tomi-Ann Roberts, Chair of the Psychology department. “There’s this very awkward turn-taking.” In Zoom classes, where students have to unmute themselves to speak, students’ avoidance of speaking over someone else leaves pauses that are usually filled with chatter or random conversations.
Juan Lindau, a political science professor, echoed these ideas, mentioning how class over Zoom is “very two-dimensional” and lacks the “energy present when people are engaged in spontaneous conversations in a way that doesn’t work online.”
Lesson plans have completely changed because it requires a lot to translate in-person learning into online formats. The nature of assignments, collaborative work, exams, and lectures all look different from previous years.
“It was a challenge having to rethink everything — it doesn’t work to just take a face-to-face class and put it over Zoom. It was a lot of work,” said Tina Valtierra, professor of education.
Professors have also recognized the importance of having accessible technology and seek to accommodate all students. Poor Wi-Fi, lack of adequate class-specific resources and having students in various time zones are all contributing factors to the overall struggle. Educators need to seek alternative methods in the classroom to ensure that students still have the ability to learn the material and succeed in the class.
“Some assignments were inappropriate,” Professor Lindau said. “I felt like the format was to some degree driving my assignments rather than the other way around. I kept trying to experiment with different things.”
“It’s been a long road for students,” Lindau continued. “I could feel the tiredness in my students, and I actually ended up adding two days without class to Block 8 because I think students need more break time.” Lindau also acknowledged, “Reading reactions to lectures, but online, it’s harder to read the room. It’s not ideal. I’ve changed the workload, but it also depends on where students are, [the] conditions they’re working under.”
In addition, as the year has progressed and the world learned more about the spread of COVID-19, positive cases became more manageable through adapting, gaining resources, and accumulating knowledge. CC opened up an opportunity, though limited, to teach with certain in-person aspects.
Professor Roberts took this opportunity up during Block 8, teaching Theories of Personality. Finding a good balance in the classroom for both online and in-person students has proven difficult to navigate.
“It’s wonderful, and it’s also really complicated because it’s not just going from fully remote to fully in-person,” Roberts said. “It’s an engineering feat. Eight to nine students are in-person a day and everyone else in on Zoom, so there’s a Zoom camera on me, Zoom squares of people in the front, and a panoramic camera. So, it’s a lot.”
The difficulties, though, aren’t what stand out to Roberts. “What’s remarkable [is that] even after the first week, I was worried it wasn’t worth it, but it turns out it’s very much worth it,” she said. “My students in person are beyond grateful for it. Something about it is so gratifying. I’m not sure why. Even though we have masks on and I have to ask them to repeat themselves all the time.”
She also expressed how it was a difficult decision to make back in December 2020. Months ago, there was no way of knowing how this pandemic would progress. In addition, CC has very few spaces on campus to accommodate in-person classes because everyone needs to be able to socially distance.
Other professors, like Lindau and Valtierra, chose not to teach in-person this academic year due to health concerns and not being fully vaccinated.
Despite the challenges this past academic year has presented, there’s hope and excitement with CC going in-person next year. There will still be online options for students and professors who can’t be in-person due to COVID-19 concerns, not being in Colorado Springs, or other personal reasons.
“I think people are resilient,” Valtierra said. “People were in shock, but it’s been really amazing to see colleagues, leadership, and especially students adapt even when it isn’t ideal. People have learned to be more patient, empathetic with one another. Hopefully we’ve learned advantages to using 21st century skills. We can use technology.”
Lindau also expressed gratitude: “We were lucky we have the technology to do it, whatever its limitations. 10 years ago this wouldn’t be a feasible option. I didn’t expect it to be as good as a regular class, but I wasn’t dissatisfied.”
Roberts wanted to emphasize the roles of the students and faculty members. “We worked together as we got through this year. I learned a lot from my students, and I’m really grateful for my students for being honest and helping me do this in a way that’s going to work for all of us,” she said. “I just wish we [could] all get together in person and give each other a big hug.”