Planning for the Unknown of Fall 2020

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We are a third of the way into June and most of us do not know if we will be on campus in the fall. My college is working with the state’s Board of Health and talking with nearby institutions to make the final decision. Teaching at a non-residential community college is complicated by the fact that every single student commutes to campus. While there is no need to evaluate dorm conditions, our administrators have to factor in the reality that students are going to and from home and work everyday, which puts them (and the college’s faculty and staff) into indirect contact with a lot of people. I certainly do not envy the administrators making these difficult decisions this summer.

As I have been anxiously awaiting answers about the fall semester I’ve been asked by people who do not teach: does it really matter if college classes are on-campus or online? And the short answer is YES! 

I do not know of a single college professor who intended to spend her career working with students from behind the screen of a laptop in her pajamas. I truly missed being in the classroom with my students this past spring. I’m eternally grateful to those students who emailed me during the second half of the semester just to say hello or to tell me what movies they had watched over the weekend. They, like me, clearly missed the personal connections that happen in the classroom. 

What I have learned in the last few months is that even the predictability of the academic semester is not guaranteed. I never expected to not return to campus from Spring Break, let alone be faced with the probability of teaching all of my classes online for the fall semester. At this point I cannot allow myself to contemplate Spring 2021. 

How do we as faculty prepare for such uncertainty? 

Right now I’m reviewing the second half of the spring semester to figure out what worked. Specifically, I’m emailing students from those classes that pivoted from on-campus to fully online to ask for feedback. I’m particularly interested to hear whether the materials I linked to our learning management system were useful and accessible (films, documents, web sites, etc). I’m also wondering if those students who had intended to be on campus want more one-on-one or small group interaction with their professors in the fall semester should the classes be fully online. Wifi access was a significant challenge for my students so we did not do any synchronous discussions during the spring semester. I’m curious to know if students missed in-class discussions as much as I did.

I would love to hear from members of the Macmillan Community about preparations for the uncertainty of fall semester. Are you hopeful? Frustrated? Please share.

About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She is currently at work on a study of the treatment of women with mental illness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.