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College Teaching During the COVID-19 Outbreak

As COVID-19 has spread across the United States, various sectors of American life have had to take precautions in order to minimize the outbreak. College and university closures stand as a prime example of these precautions, as institutions of higher education have sent students home and turned to online learning to finish out the term. In the process, many students have been drastically impacted, some more than others. It’s important that, now more than ever, we, as instructors, are mindful of these circumstances and use care in our courses.

Tyler HallmarkTyler Hallmark

As a Teaching Associate at The Ohio State University, I considered myself lucky when the institution announced the transition to online learning – lucky because I was at an institution that extended Spring Break in order to afford instructors the extra time to plan for the transition. Indeed, much has been written about how instructors should consider the various resources at their disposal, or how instructors might make the most of the situation and take the opportunity to learn new technologies. However, more important than pushing ourselves to make the most of an awful situation is that it is OK if things don’t continue at the same speed as a normal semester. In fact, there are a lot of things that we should embrace due to these circumstances.

It is OK if students can no longer meet the original deadlines that were set out at the beginning of the term. As students across the nation have moved back home, many have taken on responsibilities that they didn’t anticipate. In some cases, family members have come down with the novel coronavirus, leaving students to care for them and others in the household. In other cases, students have had to take on workloads – such as grocery shopping – that their family members at higher risk for severe illness during the outbreak cannot do. And even in the cases that students are not taking on addition responsibilities, living in quarantine can have a tremendous impact on individuals’ psychological well-being, including elevated risks of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Thus, it is necessary that we, as instructors, are providing necessary flexibility during these uncertain times.

In fact, more than just providing flexibility on deadlines, it’s important to provide flexibility on assignments altogether. It is OK if students don’t complete every little assignment that was in the original syllabus. I, and others, have been surprised to hear that some instructors have implemented higher expectations amidst this ongoing international crisis. Yes, new circumstances require new expectations, but our expectations should prioritize students’ well-being over coursework – and experts from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network have reiterated this. Please, do not jeopardize students’ GPAs – GPAs that matter for scholarships, fellowships, and future opportunities – because they are facing circumstances for which the entire nation was not prepared.

Furthermore, as we move our courses online, we must recognize that it is OK if students can’t attend courses as they are happening live. As students have been sent home from college campuses, many students now face home conditions that may not be conducive to online learning. For example, rural students may struggle with internet connectivity in their area, and students with large families may not be able to find space where they can plug into a live classroom for hours at a time. One option that I have provided students has been to learn on their own time, offering students recordings from the live class time and letting them know that if they are unable to participate at this time that they may utilize access to the materials beyond this semester.

And, finally, it is OK that instructors need care too. As Dr. Nichole Garcia reminds us, being an academic is only a sliver of our identities. It is OK if you can’t turn students’ grades around as quickly as promised at the beginning of the term. It is OK if you don’t look your best on webcam during this pandemic. Our well-being – and the well-being of our students – are essential during this time, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. It’s time to let go of our pre-quarantine expectations – we’re all just trying to survive.

Tyler Hallmark is currently a Ph.D. candidate at The Ohio State University.

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