What to Take Back to Campus from the Pandemic Remote Pivot

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I’m getting my COVID booster today and am feeling very hopeful. If enough people in my neck of the woods follow through with vaccinations and boosters maybe, just maybe, I will be able to return to campus in the spring. Student reluctance to register for on-campus offerings has meant a third semester of all online teaching. I’m starting to optimistically think about what I might take back to the brick and mortar classroom space with me from this three semester-long remote experience. 


A colleague noted this week that she plans to continue using her online discussion board even when she is teaching in-person. Students who are reluctant to speak up in a traditional classroom space often submit eloquent, thoughtful discussion posts in online classes. My colleague is wise to take advantage of this reality and I plan to as well. I’ve also thought about using a chat-style system during my in-person lecture so that students who might be shy about raising their hand will still get their questions answered in class. Perhaps an open “chat” during my live lectures will allow me to engage more students in classroom meetings than I have in the past. While my attention span is too short to allow a scrolling chat to interrupt me during lecture, I can foresee looking at the chat in the last couple minutes of class to catch any questions that need to  be addressed. 


I’m planning to continue to use the journal-based research assignment that I first wrote about in a blog this past spring (see “Summer Project: Assignment Reboot”) in which I break down a traditional research project into sections and grade each separately. I designed this project because I felt my students were fatigued from online learning and not fully engaged in their semester-long projects. Forcing them to submit the project in sections has enabled me to keep tabs on their progress while providing feedback along the way, and has significantly reduced the problem of procrastination on the students’ end. I also find that the grading process for me is quicker (shorter chunks of work submitted at a time) and that I’m writing more comments.


And finally, I’m planning to continue to take advantage of the abundance of human resources that are available virtually as a result of the pandemic. I encourage fellow faculty to follow the social media feeds of historical and cultural organizations that relate to the topics you are teaching in class. On November 1st, for example, my students will be attending a virtual artist talk by Nikole Hannah Jones titled “Examining Slavery’s Modern Legacy,” hosted by Massachusetts College of Art & Design (register here). Later in November they will be assigned to view (live or via the post-event recording) a talk by Gayle Jessup White hosted by the National Archives. “Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant’s Search for Her Family’s Lasting Legacy” will be moderated virtually by historian Annette Gordon Reed (register here). I have no doubt you’ll be amazed by the access your students can have to fabulous speakers and resources with just a little time web surfing.


If there is something that you’ve brought back into the traditional classroom with you from your experience with pandemic-era online learning, please share! 

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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.