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Things I Will Miss This Fall

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Like most of you, no doubt, I’m bracing for a (hopefully) healthy dose of uncertainty during this coming fall semester. As faculty at a community college with a large number of nursing, health science, dental hygiene and engineering students, most of us who teach in the humanities and social sciences have given up our on-campus classroom space so that those professors who need to be face-to-face with students can do so safely. For the first time in my twenty-plus year teaching career, all of my classes will be completely online.

 

I will admit to feeling overwhelmed by this reality in spite of the fact that I have taught online for more than ten years. I was an early adopter to the practice -- flexibility for working students and the creation of classroom space where students who are uncomfortable participating in person can find and share their voices are just two of the many positives of online learning. That being said, I never intended to move to a completely online teaching load and I’m feeling really sad about it.

 

First and foremost, I will miss my students’ energy in the classroom. It’s reasonable to assume that the majority of us who teach -- at any level -- do so because we truly enjoy being with learners. We enjoy the process of guiding people through new information, and we take pride in the accomplishments of our students -- especially those who we have witnessed work extremely hard amidst difficult circumstances. 

 

I’m going to miss my daily interactions with fellow faculty. Email and virtual meetings, while productive, are not the same as being in a room with people who share our vision for the students we teach and want to work together to solve problems. I’m going to miss working quietly at my desk while my wonderfully smart and funny office-mate holds her student visiting hours. Meeting her sociology students and encouraging them to take a history course as a supplement to whatever field they are studying has brought many vibrant and energetic young people into my history classroom. 

 

I will miss being shushed in the library.

 

And I’ll miss the staff members who keep our college running smoothly day to day and will continue to do so even when the majority of students and faculty are not on campus, especially the administrative assistants who keep me organized and always seem to have a snack in their desks on the days that my energy is lagging.

 

As I prepare now for the semester to begin in three weeks, therefore, I’m looking for ways to not pass on this sense of sadness to my students. There already exists a barrier between students and faculty in online courses because of the method of delivery. How do we overcome that barrier and create the same kinds of connections we have had in the past with on-campus students? Will students attend my virtual office hours? Are there other ways to build bridges and community with online students that have worked in your virtual classroom? Please share.

2 Comments
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I enjoyed reading your post! I'm in the same (virtual) spot as you are and wondering the same. I'm losing the huge advantage I had in the spring when we moved from face-to-face to virtual in March: the connections we had already built. Those connections got us through my fumbling with the technology and the isolation everyone felt. We'll be using zoom, so I hope breakout rooms and lots of discussions will help. My usual assignment for composition classes is having students interview each other, write a focused paragraph about their partner, and then introduce their classmate to the class (reading their paragraphs or just paraphrasing it). I guess I'll do a version of this to start building community day 1. I might use random break out rooms to give them some challenge assignment to work out, then share, and encourage them to exchange contact info. with at least two people they "meet" the first week of class. Other ideas?

I'm definitely interested in hearing more about break out groups. I have never used them and wonder how students have responded to yours in the past? My son is a junior in college and they use the break out groups for their meetings as part of his residential life job. He seems to think the students enjoy them.  Thoughts from others?

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.