Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

More connection than ever
Susan Marshall, Psychology

As I reflect on what has gone better than expected with my teaching this fall, what first comes to mind are all the things that have NOT gone well. I think I need to start there. Teaching classes remotely has been a huge challenge. Managing multiple monitors, Zoom class sessions, breakout rooms, online polling systems, and even wireless ear buds has taxed my attentional resources. Staring at a grid of faces and/or names on Zoom offers little feedback as compared to a bustling room with students who are nodding, laughing, conversing, and asking questions. Teaching this way is, frankly, discouraging.

That said, teaching during a pandemic is also a huge professional challenge that I’m enjoying immensely. That is the first “good” thing that has come out of this. My professional focus has been on effective teaching for over 20 years. This new way of teaching has forced me to tackle new problems and to help colleagues do the same in ways that I have never had to do. I’m exhausted but almost giddy with excitement as I problem solve ways to deliver education and engage my students who are stressed, isolated, overworked, and struggling emotionally, mentally, financially, and physically.  

That brings me to the second “good” thing about teaching this fall. I feel more of a human connection with my students than I ever have when standing in front of them in a classroom on campus. When I screw up during Zoom class and share the wrong screen, giving them a view of my email for a few minutes until someone mercifully sends me a chat to notify me (yes, this did happen), it gives me the chance to be human in front of them. We laugh together. When I send them to breakout rooms before sharing everything they need for an activity, they get to tell me afterwards that they knew it wasn’t going to work (and no one told me?!). Yes, they sometimes know more than me. When I am flexible on deadlines and supportive and empathetic when they are struggling and reach out to me, we connect and they feel like someone cares about them (I do!). We will get through this together, and that realization is just as important as the content in my class.

Teaching and learning remotely under these conditions is hard and we’re all ready to get back to campus, but I can’t help but acknowledge the ways this experience has made me a better teacher and has drawn me closer to my students in some very unexpected ways.


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