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Back to Campus and Face-to-Face

With just a few small adjustments.

Key points

  • Despite mask mandates, many campuses, like my own, are striving for some normality.
  • Readjusting to face-to-face classes and their inherent dynamics may take us a while to (re)adjust to how things used to be.
  • Three weeks into the term, so far so good; but it's important for faculty to remain flexible with students.

Well, after having vacated my university office in early March 2020, I am back. My space looks vaguely like a small cyclone hit it, but nonetheless, I am slowly finding some things (a “lost” book I need for one of my classes this semester) but not yet others (my access code to voicemails). Still, all in all, it’s good to be back. Also weird.

We are all re-adjusting to face-to-face classes after a year and a half of remote teaching and learning. Here are some things I’ve learned and some of the adjustments I’ve made:

Masks mask sound, too. My K95 mask seems to protect me—when it’s not making me sound like I’m doing a poor imitation of James Earl Jones. But I have to remember to speak a bit louder than usual, just as I need to speak more slowly and make certain to enunciate my words. I’ve had to ask some of my students to also “speak up” because sometimes they sound muffled, like adult voices in a Charlie Brown cartoon. But getting used to wearing masks to class and in all campus buildings is not really a burden—it’s a responsibility (one I’ve occasionally and gently had to remind students of when their mask is not firmly fixed on their faces).

Office spaces are not ideal for meetings. Not at the present, anyway. Mine is too confined. I’ve told my students we can meet on Zoom, communicate through email, meet immediately after class—they stand several feet from me as I pack up my notes, etc., at the front of the class. I also have met students in our spacious lounge area and outside, under some of the tents that have been erected so that classes can be held outdoors. The students are fine with the minor change and I make sure that if we are discussing their academic records that we keep our voices low.

Large gatherings still pose risks. I am fortunate that the university is retaining the Zoom option while holding face-to-face faculty and other meetings. Our full-time faculty meets once a month during the academic year, which means between 140 and 150 people gathered in a large lecture hall that really doesn’t have that many seats. Zoom is a blessing these days and, yes, I never thought I would say, let alone write, such a phase. What a difference a pandemic makes.

Students aren’t fragile but this is still a strange situation for many of them. Like faculty members around the country, I am working to remember that for some sophomore-level and transfer students, face-to-face classes are novel—they didn’t have them last year or not many, anyway. First-year students appear to be making the adjustment to in-person settings fairly well, perhaps because it is a refreshing change from their senior year of high school, which was largely or entirely online. I’ve tried to be flexible these first few weeks where assignments and the arrival of students’ textbooks are concerned—some are still waiting for their books to arrive. By not complaining to them I am hoping that the start of the semester will be smoother.

Life still happens. Unexpected family events still happen—a relative gets sick or dies and a student needs to return home to grieve with and comfort family members. Flexibility and understanding matter here, as always. Students who test positive for Covid-19 must leave campus and quarantine themselves until the virus passes—it is not taking any holiday—and faculty members like me must be helpful, calming, and understanding where student sensibilities are concerned.

Come what may? It will be interesting to see how the rest of the semester goes. I am hoping it remains steady—face-to-face classes meet, masks remain, the Covid-19 incidence remains low and manageable, and we make it to the holidays with reverting to remote learning again. Things feel more optimistic this time around—let’s see if reality meets expectations across time. Perhaps these small adjustments are working and helping.