The current global pandemic associated with the novel coronavirus [COVID-19] has made many, many lives very stressful. One of the groups of individuals impacted by the COVID-19 nightmare are educators. Both Pre-K through 12th grade and higher education have had to make drastic adjustments to accommodate the guidelines presented by various agencies. Educators, administrators, parents, and students are all stressed due to the “sudden” change in instruction. Despite having all summer to prepare for this possibility, the practice of these strategies has been lacking. The following article details the various issues higher education instructors are currently facing due to the issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic influencing how universities are run.
Universities Looking to Recoup Lost Funds
Universities have made the decision to try to open up face-to-face instruction regardless of what is going on at their campuses. Some are steadily moving towards full face-to-face instruction by having a set percentage and increasing this percentage as the weeks go by. Other universities have jumped into face-to-face instruction at any cost. College aged students are being allowed to move onto campus and in many cases are not being given a decrease in tuition charge despite the change in instructional types. Universities lost a ton of money issuing refunds during March, April, and May and are now looking for ways to make up the funds. Some universities are even making the news for being sued by students seeking refunds for their tuition and housing from Spring 2020. It is difficult for universities to make decisions in the grand scheme of things given the constant changes from town to town, county to county, and state to state.
In addition to universities trying to get money back they may never be able to make up from Spring 2020 refunds; they are now currently presenting suggestions to educators with no academic rationale – solely focusing on how to ensure they keep what they are charging for the Fall 2020 semester. In Spring 2020, I, like many of my peers went from teaching face-to-face to remote and took the approach of providing lecture content online and then having a “virtual meeting” once a week solely for students to ask questions as needed. In most cases students did not attend these virtual meetings held during regular class time. Prior to the Fall 2020 educators needed to get documentation from their doctors to be able to teach remotely if they had a medical condition which suggested they should teach remotely. In one instance the university told me even prior to submitting my paperwork I would be able to teach my courses remotely. This institution had developed HR paperwork associated with COVID-19 making it easier for a doctor to detail my medical issues. At another university I teach at the process was much more arduous; requiring me to get my department chair and Dean involved to address this issue. Their paperwork was standard accommodation forms, which made it difficult for a doctor to fill out. Once this hurdle was cleared I began formulating how to best provide students with the content and the opportunity to succeed. During the course of the summer colleagues took the approach of “teaching remotely” – in other words if their course would have met for 3 hours face-to-face they were simply talking to their students for 3 hours on Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, or a similar product. Students were disengaged and their participation was lacking based on recordings I have seen. However, the expectation at the university level is to do this method where students are disengaged and do not participate because “otherwise the parents will complain about what they are paying for.” As a result, in practice I have done a happy medium; where students are provided with a lecture video online to review and we meet virtually for a shorter period of time than our scheduled 75 minutes, 150 minutes, or 165 minutes depending on what my face-to-face course had been scheduled for. These meetings run anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes instead. Students are encouraged to focus on their work and asking questions, as opposed to worrying about what someone else thinks about their learning experience.
Student expectations seem to vary based on the course and the university. In teaching four courses – two are freshmen/sophomore level courses and the other two are junior/senior level courses. The upperclassmen seem to be perfectly fine with listening to the lecture videos provided, supplemental videos provided, supplemental readings, and the meetings during scheduled course time to further discuss content. The freshmen/sophomore level students seem to want the courses to be face-to-face regardless of the reality this cannot occur. One student even wanted me to drive 90 minutes away to provide a face-to-face midterm exam review; even though I scheduled additional meetings to discuss concepts to review and the structure of the exam. Students are also looking to push the envelope with submitting work. I administer a no late work policy for the primary reasons of students will not be given a lot of leeway like this in the real world and allowing students to submit assignments whenever they want only creates more work for me. Amazingly, students can do work on time and then randomly submit an assignment late, expected it to be graded, and claim the pandemic prevented them from submitting the assignment on time. Students seem to be, as expected, having a difficult time navigating their course work and what they would like to do in their personal life.
Educators are struggling to meet the expectations of universities they teach at, as they are changing on an almost daily basis. Additionally, standards are being created to address COVID-19 which just make more work for educators. For example, every day I have to complete a four question survey answering whether or not I have COVID-19 or have come in contact with anyone with COVID-19, or else I cannot login to any of this university’s systems to complete required tasks. This seems to be the norm throughout academia where more and more work is piling up onto the educator’s shoulders. Some educators are even abruptly retiring due to these current conditions. Thankfully I am in a position where I have substantial educational technology and curriculum development training, but most educators do not.
Then, there is the additional issue of the pressures this is putting on educators on their daily life. I heard of one story where a professor taught a course from the Chick-fil-a parking lot due to their drive thru line being so long the professor could not get home in time for their course meeting time. I also heard of another professor who has to teach their courses from behind a library due to a difficult home life. Educators know they will not be provided financial support to secure an adequate teaching space off campus, so they have to make the best of the difficult situation. Educators are trying their best to navigate the additional work the pandemic has caused them.
The pandemic should be showing universities the importance of choosing the right learning management system, having extensive professional development opportunities available for educators, providing extensive assistance related to online learning, and having the funding set aside to adequately run online learning. Currently educators are being asked to pay out of pocket for WebEx or Zoom so their lectures/meetings are recorded to “prove” to parents their children are getting what they are paying for.
The pandemic has only further illustrated the disconnect between parents, educators, students, and administrators related to teaching. Everyone must work together for education to be a worthwhile and successful process.