In-Person Teaching Fall 2020: A Promising Preview

man with face shield

This summer I have been leading the Classroom Logistics Committee, charged with determining how in-person classes will be possible in Fall 2020.  As part of this, we have been working with many people to think through questions of safety and classroom technology, but our main focus is on pedagogy and the classroom experience for instructors and students.  We conducted a small-scale test of classrooms last week, and the results are quite promising. 

We had a brief “discussion” in a classroom that seated 10 students + one instructor in a circle.  It is clearly an under-use of the space; this is a room that normally seats 40 students.  It was also clearly much more fun than a Zoom call.  We all agreed that while this is an inefficient use of space, it would be lovely if discussion-based classes could be held in such classrooms.  The discussion was easy to have even with all of us wearing masks, and I think that’d be true even in a larger room with 15-18 students. 

We also spent time in a classroom with 16 student seats in a socially-distanced grid format, in another room that normally seats 40 students.  A humorous aspect is that the lovely mobile desks and chairs in our classrooms have turned from a feature into a bug:  rather than allowing the classroom to be reconfigured on the fly, we’ll need to reinforce that students should not move their chairs and desks from their carefully socially distanced locations.  Teaching with a lightweight face shield is quite easy, with no effort the instructor’s voice could be heard throughout the room.  However, face shields are not adequate personal protective equipment; an instructor wearing a face shield will also likely need to be behind acrylic barriers.  Teaching from behind the barrier will require using a document camera and remaining close to the podium computer.  On the other hand, this will make it easy to record your class if needed. 

Finally, we looked at a large lecture-style classroom that normally seats 180 students; this room can hold about 40-45 students who are socially distanced.  This room has blackboards about 15 feet away from the front row of students, and so the instructor may be able to walk around and use the blackboards within some zone in front of the blackboards, to be marked with tape.  We’ll be testing soon to determine how to video capture what is written on the blackboards.

The CFDE will continue to be a resource for helping you with your teaching and pedagogy for Fall 2020, whether in-person or online.  We will work with the Libraries’ Academic Technology Services team to video-record future classroom tests and let you all get a better preview of the in-person classroom experience from both instructor and student viewpoints.  Stay tuned!

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