The Big Transition
Last March, when universities and colleges across the nation moved online, higher ed collectively adjusted to emergency remote instruction. As of today’s writing, many institutions have decided, in some capacity, to return to the classroom to hold in-person classes. Now, in a world of social distancing and mask wearing, going face-to-face in the fall raises a host of new questions: How will we gather in the classroom and keep all participants safe? What will the new classroom climate feel like for students? Instructors?
The Pandemic Classroom
In the next few blogs, I want to explore some issues surrounding what I’ve been thinking of as the “pandemic classroom.” My idea of the pandemic classroom is one informed by mask wearing, social distancing, fewer students, adjustments in teaching, and a potential sense of anxiety for instructors and students alike.
Wearing Masks in Class
Today, I want to explore questions surrounding collective mask wearing in the pandemic classroom, from the instructor’s perspective. This fall semester will not be the first time instructors or students in American classrooms veil their nose and mouth, but the pandemic classroom requires that all of us cover our faces. This is an unprecedented development that will alter classroom communication and interaction and that now raises all sorts of questions for how we might proceed.
Some of the questions I’ve been wondering about for instructors include:
- How might mask wearing interfere with microphones? With recording class meetings? How will we communicate with Instructors’ about specific placement for mics for best amplification in class? Will we have suggestions for where they stand or walk in a room during a class meeting? What about for recording of class sessions?
- Will instructors lose a sense of student attention or mood once facial expressions become hidden? With students’ faces partially masked, will instructors be less able to judge students’ engagement in class? Will hidden faces mean less of a sense of reaction to course materials? Will it be more of a challenge for instructors to learn their students’ names if they can’t see their entire face?
- Will instructors be allowed to take the mask off during instruction? Will we allow instructors to forgo wearing a mask when they are leading a class session if they are further away from students, for example, at the front of the classroom? Would a mask-less Instructor communicate more effectively to their students through facial expression along with speech?
- Will instructors be expected to enforce proper mask wearing for students in their class? Not everyone wearing a mask wishes to do so, nor does everyone wear a mask properly. Will it be up to the instructor to enforce university policy as it concerns mask wearing? Will they receive guidance on enforcement? How will instructors address any mask wearing deviations without disrupting class?
In future blogs, as university polices develop, I’ll address how to support instructors regarding these questions about wearing masks. I’ll also write about ways instructors can effectively teach in a fully-masked classroom.
Wearing masks is just one of the new issues related to teaching in the pandemic classroom. In upcoming blogs, I’ll focus on teaching in the context of social distancing, a newly restricted classroom space, students in remote and face-to-face locations, and other issues as they arise. The primary concern for all of these blogs will be: How do we successfully apply active learning approaches in the pandemic classroom?
How about you? What adjustments to teaching you are making in anticipation of the “pandemic classroom?” What questions do you have about teaching in the fall? Please leave your comments and questions below.
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