Although classes are fully in-person for most of this semester, Liann Tsoukas still offers a Zoom option for the two classes she teaches. Tsoukas said she does not ask students to explain why they are not in class and tries to make class attendance as “transparent” as possible.
“I don’t expect students to tell me whether they will be there or not, or why, or disclose anything, or provide an official or medical apology, anything,” Tsoukas, master of lectures at the history department and assistant dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, said. “When you can be in class, you are in class, but if you can’t be in class, here is an option for you that will make it easier for you. “
Since Pitt has begun face-to-face class on September 13 after two weeks of online learning, many teachers, such as Tsoukas, still navigate classroom instruction and welcome students who need an online option.
Provost Ann Cudd sent a September E-mail instructors to offer advice and suggestions to follow when certain situations arise, such as if a student contracts COVID-19 or needs to self-quarantine. Some of these instructions include recording class sessions, broadcasting class sessions on Zoom, creating asynchronous content, and be flexible with homework, activities, due dates and exams to help students who may be struggling.
Tsoukas said that while she appreciates the University’s suggestions, the best resource for faculty to navigate education during the COVID-19 pandemic is their own knowledge of their students and what they need.
“I think that as professors and instructors, we have a deep understanding of what works best for our students in our disciplines,” Tsoukas said. “So I think we are our best resource. And you know, our collegiality among other faculty is our greatest resource and I think the University guidelines are helpful suggestions and it’s good that our University is providing them.
University spokesman Charles Finder said whether it was possible to bring a class together remotely or in a hybrid fashion was at the discretion of the dean of a particular school. He said Pitt expects instructors to adapt to students.
“All classes at the University of Pittsburgh now meet in person, unless authorization for remote or hybrid delivery has been approved by a faculty’s dean,” Finder said. “Instructors are supposed to work with students who cannot come to class because they are isolated or in quarantine, or because they are not feeling well. “
Tsoukas said the history department is very accommodating to the needs of the students during this time and added that the most important thing is that the students have the most “positive” experience possible while taking the classes.
“We’re trying to open up policies and accommodations that take these as they go and make a very clear message to students that there is nothing punitive about this semester, for these reasons, and that we want, that we are committed to ensuring that they have the most positive experience possible in the classroom, ”Tsoukas said. “And I think when you come out loud about that message, and are sincere about it, the students hear it.”
Tsoukas said that although the distance option for the first two weeks of the course was a bit of a “difficult entry”, students are now starting to settle into in-person learning.
“We always have students who are sick or can’t be in class, or for some reason can’t be there, so they have to zoom in,” Tsoukas said. “But we’ve been able to keep both, you know, the entry points to the classroom open and available. And in general, I find that most students want to be in class and the overwhelming majority do.
Julie Beaulieu, a teacher in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, said most students come in person for her classes, but she still offers a Zoom option for those in need and for the “Collective health” of each.
“Sometimes I had to make other accommodations, especially for the more collaborative lessons in a way that could be restricted by Zoom,” Beaulieu said. “I really enjoy being in the classroom and we make it work.”
Beaulieu, who teaches courses in the history of sexuality, global LGBTQ + literature, and archival studies, said that while Pitt’s advice has been a useful framework for faculty, she said her students need hard to understand how each teacher approaches the guidelines differently.
“I understand that a lot of students are frustrated with the way different teachers work in orientation,” Beaulieu said. “But talking about it helps us understand diverse perspectives and gives us a better idea of how we are all affected, students, faculty, staff and the entire community. “
Beaulieu said that while the transition to in-person learning can be difficult, she said it is important to be transparent with students about these challenges so that they can work together as a group.
“There are a lot of challenges that I tried to be open and transparent about in class,” Beaulieu said. “Such transparency is really helpful in engaging our students in teaching as a practice.”
Tsoukas said students in the smaller class she teaches – an upper-level course with 35 students – rarely used the Zoom option. She said more students were using Zoom in the introductory course with 80 students enrolled.
Tsoukas said the history department is working diligently to ensure that students always get the most out of their classes.
“And we, as a department, have spent a lot of time adapting our pedagogy to the conditions of the last year,” Tsoukas said. “We’ve done our life’s work to make sure our students get what they deserve from our classes. I mean, nobody called him, you know, we really – it was our corporate ethics to do it and we took it real seriously, and we did.
Beaulieu said that while challenges may arise during this time of transition, she tries to make adjustments and accommodations to find a balance for the students.
“There are a lot of little details related to safety, well-being and health, and that means recognizing that we all need space and accommodation for new challenges,” said Beaulieu. “I had to make some adjustments to what I think we can do over the course of a semester to really find a better balance for our students as we go through this.”
Tsoukas said faculty and students are finding ways to navigate teaching and learning during the pandemic. But overall, she’s happy to be back in class.
“Well, you know, we stay patient with each other, we deal with each other, we experience all platforms in real time,” Tsoukas said. “But I think at the end of the day there is a lot of goodwill, because we’re all so happy to be back in class.”