The new semester is underway in some colleges and universities, and others will begin soon enough. Across the country, a new bunch of students will be attending their first semesters in undergrad or postgrad courses.
This is both old news and news at the same time. There’s is nothing new in this if you take the long view, but given that this is the first semester post the end (?) of the pandemic, it is very new and very different.
Why different? Because we’ll be teaching students who have spent two years learning at/from home, and the way they have learnt is very different from the way they will learn in this semester.
- Physical attendance will be required. Not by me, to be clear, but colleges and universities will require it (of course).
- Usage of internet enabled devices might be frowned upon. Again, not by me, to be clear, but there will be a fair few number of colleges, universities and professors who will require complete attention, and that will mean no phones, tablets and laptops allowed.
Let me be clear: I personally don’t mind usage of these devices in classes, but don’t hold very strong views on the subject, and am well aware of the fact that there are a large number of professors who hold very strong anti-device views. How this will play out is something I am very interested in seeing this semester.
- Discussions, debates, arguments will be centre-stage once again in a classroom, and this time with many more people involved, whether they like it or not. Have we lost the skill? Will there be new norms given the last two years? Will it be more difficult to get discussions going, or will it be easier than ever before?
- Every single professor I have spoken to has bemoaned the lack of eye-contact and visual cues while teaching. How will we adapt to having these advantages with us once again?
- How screwed up are attention spans post pandemic? Not just because of ‘taking’ classes from home, but because of the pandemic itself – and how will these affect both teaching and learning?
- Have students learnt to think of material available online as definitely being a substitute for an in-class experience, as opposed to a complement? And if so, are they likely to take less kindly to some of the teaching they will experience offline? And if so, how will colleges and universities respond? As my favorite blogger says, solve for the equilibrium.
- Do pen and paper exams make sense anymore? If yes, why? If not, how are we thinking about substituting for them? Are these discussions taking place in higher-ed institutions across the country?
- How should our pedagogy change? More videos shown in class? More interactive content? More discussions?
- Will all classes be recorded and shared with students? Should they? If not, why not?
- What percentage of subjects/courses offered in a semester will be offered ‘remotely’?
- This is not just about habit formation. The one lesson that all course coordinators learnt during the pandemic (including yours truly) was that we need no longer be restricted by geography when it comes to hiring really good profs. But now that all classes are offline, should we just give up on profs we know are good, simply because they are not located in the same city/town as your campus? If the truth is to lie somewhere in the middle, how do we decide?
- How will students solve what I’ve taken to calling the 2x problem? Imagine listening to the prof speak at 1x – how quaint (and quite possibly frustrating) it might seem to post-pandemic cohorts of students!
I don’t know the answers to even one of these questions. But in the semester that is coming up, I hope to spend a lot of time talking to folks who are in the higher-ed business to understand how classroom teaching will evolve from here on in. It promises to be a fascinating five months!
Here is an old blog post in which I predict that classroom teaching will decline from here on in, and wither away in the long run. And here is one in which I try to force myself to take the opposite position.
Thoughts, opinions and feedback is always welcome, but in the case of this blog post, especially so. If you are teaching a course in this semester and wish to chat, please drop me a line at ashish at econforeverybody dot com.