Online or Social Distanced for Fall Classes?

As our university is working on a plan to reopen in the fall, I get why we would want to do it, but I’m also wondering what it will be like to teach in a social distanced classroom. Everyone would love to be back to normal, but that’s highly unlikely to happen.

Online classes have a lot of advantages, actually. Though students won’t be able to interact in the same ways they would face to face, they can interact in proven ways online. There are asynchronous methods such as discussion boards and text-based content or recorded video lectures, and there are synchronous methods like the ubiquitous Zoom classroom.

Though moving back to the classroom seems ideal, it may actually be less interactive than online. For instance, a lot of us use techniques like group work that will not be available in a classroom where students should wear masks and sit at least six feet apart. How do we get students to interact with one another in this setting? I could lecture, but that’s not the way I want to run a classroom, especially not for creative writing. In group work, we pass texts back and forth and write on each other’s papers — that won’t be possible with social distancing.

If I’m in the classroom with students, I suspect I’ll need to adapt some online course delivery methods there as well. I could see letting students exchange writing by chat or in a discussion room. I’d love to find a tool that would make this more interactive and fun. But of course, doing that will also require that students bring their devices to the classroom so they can communicate with one another despite the distance.

Hybrid classes may be the norm, rather than the exception. Some things will make sense to do in the classroom, and some things will need to be taken online, even if students are sitting in the same room with each other. Class sizes will also need to be small, so for some classes it may be that only half the class can fit in the social distanced classroom at any one time. We may need to alternate days and find ways to include those who are off-site in our discussions. Rethinking the classroom experience may be more complicated than it was to take all of our face-to-face classes online suddenly this spring.

It would probalby be easier to be all online, but we’d miss the connection we have with students when we meet physically in one place. Whatever happens, we’ll have to do everythign we can to maintain that connection, and whatever happens, we’ll need to use every tool in our took kit (and then some) to keep communication open whether that is in the classroom or online. It will take a lot of creativity to make next semester work, but the best part of that is that the lessons we learn from teaching under COVID-19 are ones that we can still use when life truly goes back to normal.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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