‘I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel’: faculty discuss 2021 fall semester plans
NKU is returning to mostly in-person classes in the fall, but campus community members are still planning to carry impactful experiences and lessons from the pandemic with them as they return to a new sense of normalcy.
Dr. Ande Durojaiye, interim provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, described the class format breakdown for Fall 2021 as 70% face-to-face courses, approximately 25% as online asynchronous, about 1.5% as online synchronous, and 3% as hybrid courses.
“The way we came to our decision about scheduling is no different than any of our decisions—health and safety has got to be the most important thing right now. Second to that, but equally important, is the need to get back to ‘normal,’ so to be speak, on campus,” Durojaiye said.
Durojaiye hopes to see campus “come back to life” with students, both new and returning, roaming NKU’s grounds. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, classes abruptly transitioned to online delivery to decrease campus density and lower the risk of disease spreading. Throughout the past few semesters, students have incrementally returned to campus through a limited number of in-person and hybrid classes.
With COVID-19 vaccines becoming more readily available and local case numbers decreasing, administrators are eager to see that in-person class percentage grow.
President Ashish Vaidya recently released a message that NKU will go “back to the future” next semester with greater density on campus, including “in-person learning, residence halls at capacity, and campus events and activities.”
Durojaiye said he hopes that campus will regain a sense of vibrancy.
“I’d like to see individuals having conversations. I’d like to see individuals in the library. I’d like to see students engaging with their campus community in a meaningful way—in a way that they’re proud of that impacts student engagement and positively impacts student experience. So if you ask me ‘normal,’ that’s what I want to see.”
Health and safety are still a top priority for the administration, but concrete plans are still being discussed on what guidelines may look like next semester.
“We’re currently in the process of assessing what that will look like. We don’t have the specifics,” Durojaiye said. “I imagine that some of the things that happened during the pandemic, we’re gonna have to continue to do. You know, masking is going to be one of those areas. We’re still very likely going to have masking on campus as the fall starts.”
According to Durojaiye, it is difficult to release plans for the future as present circumstances continue to fluctuate and guidelines change.
“As we get additional guidance, we’ll be reassessing, evaluating and making sure we’ve communicated to our campus community as quickly as possible,” Durojaiye said.
Durojaiye said they will continue to monitor the local situation as well as international trends related to the pandemic.
While administrators shared the percentage plan for class formats with faculty, department chairs and professors had autonomy to design their class formats.
Dr. Abdullah Al-Bahrani, associate professor, plans to teach two in-person sections on the Principles of Macroeconomics in the fall for the first time since the pandemic. Al-Bahrani was on sabbatical during the initial transition from in-person to online classes, but when he soon returned to teaching at NKU, he learned he had to deliver his classes in an online format—a teaching mode that he was completely unfamiliar with.
It was an adjustment period for both faculty and students, but Al-Bahrani said the online format had its advantages.
He developed professionally by building an online teaching portfolio over the past year in addition to creating a collection of videos on the subject.
“I’ve created this portfolio of videos to help explain the principles of macroeconomics and it has made me a more effective communicator,” Al-Bahrani said. “It has made me recognize what are the basic elements and foundations that our students should know leaving Principles of Macroeconomics.”
These video-based lectures were uploaded to YouTube, where they have been used by other instructors. In addition, he said students have liked the accessibility aspect of his lectures now where they can refresh themselves on the content as often as they want.
Additionally, the online format allowed for more “current event discussions” that they typically didn’t have time for in face-to-face lectures.
“My students love it,” Al-Bahrani said. “They’ve actually encouraged me to keep this video content going forward for the students and making classroom discussions more about current events.”
He plans to retain some of these elements as he transitions back to face-to-face classes due to their functionality and popularity.
Durojaiye also said that some online-based elements, such as virtual meetings and student conferences, will also likely be implemented more on campus as an added layer of flexibility.
However, even with these newfound benefits, Al-Bahrani said online teaching still had its “trade-offs,” such as interpersonal connections with students in the classroom.
“I’ve tried to develop or show my personality in these online videos and in these Zoom conversations, but behind being in a box, you literally get put into a box,” Al-Bahrani said. “The students don’t see you walking, how you carry yourself, how you maneuver around the classroom because there are nonverbal cues to show you being welcoming. That is harder to express in an online format.”
Al-Bahrani said he measured several factors in deciding his class format, including the health and safety of his students. He is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and, as the vaccine becomes more readily available, he expects many students will most likely be vaccinated as well by the fall.
“I feel the risk [of disease spreading] has been decreasing, so I am confident to be able to teach in-person in the fall,” Al-Bahrani said.
In addition to new technical features, Al-Bahrani brings a renewed sense of flexibility and understanding of students as a result of the pandemic.
“One aspect that the pandemic has taught us is that we need to stop and take human circumstances into consideration,” Al-Bahrani said.
Durojaiye also expressed that empathy and flexibility are vital to understanding and better serving students on campus.
Durojaiye acknowledged that some students may not feel comfortable returning to in-person classes in the fall, which accounts for the percentage of online classes still being delivered.
“We’ve tried to take everyone’s consideration into what our schedule looks like for the fall,” Durojaiye said. “We’d love to see them there, and so we’re going to put the health and safety protocols in place to make everyone safe on our campus, but we have offered quite a bit of flexibility to our schedule. There are online offerings for students as well.”
For some students, that normalcy on campus is already being felt.
For freshman Kaitlyn Snyder, she considers her college experience to have felt normal so far. As a biology major, many of her classes have had to be on campus for access to the lab environment and equipment.
She currently has one class that is online asynchronous, and while she feels like she is still learning, “I prefer in-person [classes].”
Around her, NKU’s campus still feels empty. She said she looks forward to more visible engagement and activities.
“I’m excited to see what campus will look like,” Snyder said.
Al-Bahrani is excited to meet his students, all of whom he has only seen through a computer screen for the past year.
“I’m interested in seeing the students that I’ve taught over the last year and get to meet them,” Al-Bahrani said. “I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and I just want to make sure that our students are well taken care of and are progressing towards successful graduation and careers.”