Teaching in a Pandemic 4: The Things that Matter Are Still Pretty Much the Same

(Read previous entries part 1, part 2, and part 3)

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted about teaching, and in the past two weeks things have started to become clearer. Students are starting to engage in the online discussions and submit online assignments, and I’m seeing how they respond to what I’ve asked them to do.

The results are mostly good. Students are thinking about the questions I’ve wanted them to think about, and coming up with some pretty good responses. Some of the work I’ve seen is even better than I would have expected out of a classroom—one student wrote up a paragraph about how different types of early Christian churches reflect the social dynamics of Christianity at different levels of Roman society that could have come from a scholarly book. (It didn’t, as far as I can tell.)

More typical responses rephrase the ideas I’ve already given them in my written introductions, but that’s good enough for these times. There is pedagogical value in paraphrasing. The act of putting an idea into your own words is a useful kind of thinking, and for my lower-level classes, it is as much as I feel I can ask of my students under these circumstances.

For my upper-level Roman Law class, I’ve posed a number of hypothetical cases for my students to try to interpret, and occasionally given them the chance to come up with hypotheticals of their own. The results can be amusing, but they are also good for seeing how clearly my students have thought through the logical implications of various legal principles. (On the other hand, because some students were making reference to it in their responses, I have had the misfortune of having to find out what Tiger King is all about. Thank goodness for Wikipedia, but also: yuck.)

Perhaps the biggest thing that has become clear in the last few weeks is that even though everything is online now, the things that matter are still pretty much the same. The students who were active and engaged in the classroom are active and engaged online. The ones who sat in the back scrolling on their phones through classtime are nowhere to be found online. Students who were confused in person are now confused by email, while the ones who always turned their assignments in on time still do.

The same principle can be applied to the university administration. The administrators who were helpful and responsive before the crisis are helpful and responsive now. The ones who were overpaid nonentities in person remain overpaid nonentities at a distance.

Like many crises in history, this pandemic has not so much caused new problems as it has revealed the problems that were already there but we had gotten used to not seeing.

Image by Erik Jensen

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

2 thoughts on “Teaching in a Pandemic 4: The Things that Matter Are Still Pretty Much the Same

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