But, we’ve come so far!

Over the first two weeks of this semester, I had several engaging conversations with my colleagues about yet another semester of pandemic teaching, and the longing for a return to normal. Certainly, this is a view many people share – in and out of our university and community – and with good spirit. We are less than two months from the two-year mark from the moment that sense of normal was upended and sent us nervously on to Zoom, discussions on D2L, and for the adventurous, other instructional technologies like Perusall, Flipgrid, and Google Jamboard.

In these conversations, I could not help interjecting with statements like, “but we’ve come so far” or ask a question like, “but what will I do with all of the content I have created online?” I offer these not just as the Director of Faculty Development and Innovation, but as someone who, in March of 2020, was firmly in the “I’ll never teach online” crowd. Honestly.

If nothing else, we have demonstrated just how committed we are to our teaching, to our students, to our disciplines, that we shook-off our rigidity and cultivated our flexibility. Even with the start to this term and the elective temporary hybrid approach, all we have done – all we have built – over the past 20 months made this a speedbump, not a roadblock.

In each of these conversations, some with individuals and some within committees, there was no conclusion on what the next pivot could be, or regression to Fall 2019, or how to move forward with all our flexibility and content and tools we amassed in order to teach our students.

But what if that is the answer? What if we keep evolving, progressing, innovating, and creating and re-creating as we define what is next? We have done so much work, why let that go and dust off our hand-written lecture notes?

I think about these questions daily – not only in this role leading your FDIC, but as an educator and professor. I admittedly do keep my lecture notes in a Microsoft Word file, updating them each semester, but now that does not seem good enough, especially as my students have all embraced flexible approaches to teaching and learning. So, I decided to meet them where they are now, in this moment, by reinventing my statistics course into a hybrid active learning classroom experience. I get to use the library of “how-to” videos I created over the past 2 years, and my students get a go-to source online to develop their skills in statistical analysis. Now lab projects are more active and engaged and provide space for discussion in our face-to-face sessions.

I know I am not alone; I have also learned of our colleagues revisioning normal with podcasts (including student-created projects), virtual reality platforms, graphic novels, phone apps, e-textbooks, and so many more. We have the opportunities, and the forced experience, to take our teaching forward. I know not everyone will see it from this perspective – and that is okay. But I am optimistic as we approach the two-year anniversary of pandemic teaching; I am encouraged and empowered, and I hope you find a way to be as well. You’ve worked hard to get to this point, and I know you and your students can benefit from how far we all have come. I hope you do appreciate that – an use it as we continue to evolve.

Moving Forward: Teaching Philosophies in a Post-COVID Era

“Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who you are – so you can more wisely build the future” – Paulo Freire

Across higher education as well as my own institution, the question of what college will look like “post-COVID” is front and center. Any week the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and several other related sources publish articles, op-eds, and interviews on our post-COVID realities.

We have learned there is not much we can control in terms of the pandemic itself, governmental responses, or even how universities have met this moment. But as we emerge as faculty from this year of education triage, I have been thinking about what this means for myself and my peers who put the “education” in higher education.

As an educator who thrives on face-to-face classroom interactions with my students, this past year of isolation and online learning has been a challenge for me and my pedagogy. As I devoured any online training, research article, or book on online education, I found myself thinking (and rethinking) my own approach to teaching. In this tour-de-force, I was recommended a recently published article by Beatty, Leigh, and Dean (2020) on the connections of teaching philosophy statements and student learning. You might remember that teaching philosophy statement as the singular document you wrote as a piece of your application package (and have never given it another thought), or perhaps you revisit it annually when pulling together materials for your evaluation, or maybe it is printed and hanging on your office wall. Wherever one might fall in this continuum, perhaps we might revisit that statement of our personal values, connections with our discipline and university, and our “classroom” practices.

In this article, the authors reflect back on a decade of their work using a simple card-sort exercise to help faculty discover their own teaching philosophies. The exercise simply asks participants to sort cards with words or phrases such as “interdisciplinary” or “learning-by-doing” based on how the participant feels that card represents their own ideas about teaching and learning. On the reverse side of each card is the name of a theorist or approach to teaching and learning; the cards that best match with the participant can act as a catalyst for further work to explore more deeply and formally execute a philosophy of teaching statement. The cards that are chosen, through several rounds of guided imagery and written drafts, lead to a more formal statement.

Why is this statement important? Whether created with this card-sorting method or some other reflexive means, Beatty, Leigh, and Duncan (2020, pp. 538-9) argue, “Having a teaching philosophy based on lived experience as well as our dreams for the future allows a liberating way to negotiate the terms of our engagement with students in real time, iteratively, and based creatively on our students’ needs…In all of our experiences thus far, our choices of modalities are much less important than our orientation to supplying a high-quality learning experience for our students.” As the authors show, these statements – and our commitment to them – make us better educators.

This really stuck with me as I think not just about my current reality teaching online, but of my future practice back in the classroom, and as I prepare to transition into my forthcoming role as Director of Faculty Development. In doing so, I have often asked myself, “What is it that I can build on from this past year that can define and describe my agency as a professor and faculty developer? Having survived this moment, what are my holistic views of the teaching process and the interactions between teaching and learning?”

While there is much left to be discovered in the shape and nature of the post-COVID university, perhaps one place we can start – and control – is right back at the basics, that statement of our ongoing personal and professional development. I have learned a lot about my myself, my teaching, and student learning this past year; the challenge is now to take the best of these lessons and evolve moving forward – starting with this teaching philosophy.