Who would have thought that in 2020 and 2021 we would be faced with a pandemic that would dramatically impact our ways of living, working, and learning? Instruction needed to shift at a lightning speed to remote so that students could keep learning. A number of work processes and procedures needed to be reimagined into digital spaces. Let’s face it: the pandemic has resulted in a number of significant obstacles to the fundamental operations of an institution of higher education, but certainly some amazing transformations have taken place, for which I commend the members of the Lafayette College community.
We have many pandemic wins to reflect on and rejoice about this summer, a time in which rest and rejuvenation will continue to be critical given the turmoil of the pandemic in the face of social unrest. Many of the pandemic wins noted here come from my own observations, as well as the findings of focus group discussions with faculty and staff members facilitated by my colleagues and me for a Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges Higher Education Leaders Institute project aimed to benefit our home campus.
Undoubtedly, during the pandemic, faculty and staff learned to use new tools to enhance student learning and work environments, many of which will continue to be utilized when the College is more fully in-person. Sample transformations included web conferencing tools that promoted engagement and interaction through polling and chat features, leading to more equitable participation, tools that facilitated collaborative group work, digital office hours, online breakout room small-group sessions, effective asynchronous components that encouraged engagement in readings and other course material, and lecture recordings that can endure.
Holding meetings and speaker presentations virtually increased their accessibility to the community and their presence. Faculty and staff generally have more tools to successfully move back and forth from in-person and remote settings, which can continue to be advantageous for teaching and other work at the College.
Faculty and staff also found new ways of connecting with students and colleagues. Several professors and offices started to use apps accessible by cellphones or web browsers to facilitate and improve the more distanced communication of the pandemic. Usage of these apps is likely to continue into the future. The community became more aware of the disparate challenges that our very capable learners faced, and how critical it was to equitably support all students. Some student challenges included lack of access to reliable internet services, a computer, and a quiet place to study from their remote locations. Such circumstances came to the forefront during the pandemic, and many faculty and staff have risen to the occasion to support our learners.
Faculty and staff found out how beneficial it is to share tools, strategies, and advice with one another, and engaged in such conversations and interactions across campus. New tools have been employed to allow digital showcases to run that were previously in-person events.
Faculty devised creative ways to continue to help students engage in hands-on learning exercises remotely by preparing and shipping course kits to their students’ locations. In-person instruction occurring during the spring 2021 semester took on new forms as faculty and students followed safety protocols. Additionally, a number of offices and departments transformed processes that have made Lafayette all the better. Many forms once on paper became embedded into a new digital workflow, streamlining processes in the long run and making them more accessible to members of the community.
In all of this, our students have been champions in being flexible as significant adjustments have been made to their learning experiences, and we’ve found moments to be kind and more understanding of one another. This time has certainly not been easy, but we have a lot to be appreciative about as we consider the future of work at the College.
Tracie Addy is associate dean of teaching and learning, and director of the Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship.