As college instructors, we are fortunate to begin each semester with a fresh start, and Spring 2021 will be no different. In fact, this current semester already poses its own unique set of questions for me and my students as we plan to return to campus. How can we interact together safely? And how can we maintain some sense of normalcy while wearing masks? Regardless of the potentially endless responses to these questions, we need to make sure that the classroom continues to be a space that prioritizes learning, even amidst daily COVID changes. To do so, we must band together, share ideas, and help each other out wherever possible.
We all know that this semester (just like the previous ones) is not representative of a “typical” semester. COVID has required both students and instructors to get creative. For example, one of my colleagues kept the use of in-class demonstrations for the lower-level chemistry courses. And I taught GOBC labs split up into two sessions, A and B, so that our institution could offer a quality lab experience while surviving the pandemic.
Even though I know I have to be cautious for my family at home, I have truly missed being in “my element”—the classroom and the laboratory—because I thrive off my interactions with students. Our transition from online classes back to in-person instruction will begin with the “extended” classroom, which will permit students to choose between in-person instruction and remote learning. Because it is important to provide a safe and constructive environment for all parties, the extended classroom will allow students to sign up for one day of in-person instruction (MWF), though students can also opt to take instruction completely online. All classes will be available to students via a digital format (such as Microsoft Teams). I am thankful that I will be able to meet all of my students in a format that best suits their needs and lifestyles.
When teaching in person, I plan to wear appropriate PPE so I can help protect my students and myself. Because we know that masks are essential for keeping everyone safe, I decided to add some fun to this reality by purchasing some chemistry-themed masks that I can wear in class (see below)! I hope that these masks, a symbol of how creativity can transcend the distractions of the everyday, will help bring a sense of joy and excitement to my students.
I also plan to enforce additional precautionary measures to keep everyone healthy. For instance, my students and I will stay six feet apart; I will bring in all of my own office equipment, such as Expo markers, erasers, and laser pointers/clickers; and I will carry a container of Clorox wipes that I will use to sanitize the instructor station both before and after my lectures. Keeping these safety measures in mind, I decided that I will conduct my office hours over Google Meets instead of in person. I will continue to use an appointment-style process set up for my students to choose 30-minute sessions that best fit their personal schedules, which will allow them to fit my availability in with their day-to-day activities. Lastly, all of our course assignments will be electronic, meaning that no paper submissions will be accepted. This is a new policy that our department established to help keep everyone safe as we learn more about the virus and its exact means of transmission between individuals.
On the topic of course assignments, I will give 4 midterm exams and 1 final exam (see my earlier post for some additional context about why I made this change last semester). The use of annotations in Perusall will remain because it helps me respond to my students’ questions in a timely manner. Other assignments, such as quizzes and worksheets, will count as bonus opportunities, which will not only give students more practice and extra points to boost their grades and morale, but will also reduce the amount of grading that I have to do. When taken altogether, the course will be set up for students to earn a maximum of 550 points (Perusall – 50; Worksheets/Quizzes – 50; 4 Midterm Exams – 400; and 1 Final Exam – 100).
As I get ready to teach in person after nearly a year of online classes, I feel equally blessed and thankful to be surrounded by two of my favorite things again: chemistry and undergraduate students. Although I’m nervous about how this semester will go, I’m also excited to safely return to a classroom of students whom I’ve missed dearly. Not only am I hoping that this new semester will allow me to plant seeds of growth and learning in my students—the most rewarding aspect of my job—but I’m also hoping that this new semester will give me refreshing insights and perspectives on teaching, which help keep me (and maybe other instructors as well) young at heart.
-Kerri Taylor, Columbus State University
Feel free to share what you’re doing with your classes this semester in the “Comments” section below!