Pandemic Pedagogy: Preliminary Interview Findings from the Spring 2020 Semester

Concurrent Session 5
Streamed Session Leadership

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Brief Abstract

Faculty researchers share preliminary results of their study investigating transformational aspects of teaching during the recent pandemic. The study explores how transitioning to online teaching opened an opportunity for faculty to rethink their ideas about teaching and negotiate new ethical challenges.  Results and experiences will be discussed with the audience.


Martha (Marty) Whalen, Ph.D. is an alumna of Saint Lawrence University, where she earned a BA in Economics. She also holds an MBA from Clarkson University, an MS in Career and Human Resource Development from Rochester Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in Education from Boston College. Marty’s career has spanned the fields of marketing, finance, procurement and organizational development (when she served as a corporate change agent, trainer, curriculum development specialist and instructional design consultant). Her employers have included major corporations such as Xerox and Dell EMC, among others. Marty has also worked within academia in both teaching and administrative roles, contributed to designing college courses and taught at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Marty is now consulting and working as a Research Assistant Professor for Clarkson University (where she taught in the Spring of 2020). She will also be teaching online for St. Lawrence University and Boston College during the Spring, 2021 academic semester.

Extended Abstract

This presentation will present preliminary results from a study that aims to shed light on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on a specific segment of the higher education community: the faculty.

Following the spread of the COVID-19 virus, colleges and universities across the world rapidly transitioned to online teaching. In the process, faculty were flung into a new and uncertain time for teaching - one where many had to quickly reinvent their teaching approaches while grappling with the fact that they and/or students might be personally affected by COVID-19. This situation, we believe, has created a space for faculty to interrogate and reevaluate their teaching philosophies, their relationship to their students as authority figures versus empathizers, and to more explicitly consider the vulnerabilities of their students.

We undertook an interview study to determine if faculty were inspired in novel ways by their own experiences of transitioning/pivoting to online teaching during the COVID-19 crisis, in the hopes that it may provide valuable insights for teaching in the virtual environment.  How did faculty balance their roles of being professors and doing what is personally “right” for them?  For example, how did they deal with the ethical quandaries associated with grading students who no longer had spaces to study, internet access and time, and were under new forms of stress? Our research is intended to provide insight into how teachers navigated these challenges and how they came out on the other side.

This work fits into a broader body of research on how crises affect pedagogy and teaching. While a small amount of research on the topic of teaching following crises such as 9/11 or mass shootings exists, these studies have tended to focus on how faculty adapt and cope with acute traumas as opposed to the sustained lockdowns and losses of COVID-19. In addition, they have focused on instrumental goals (e.g. adaptation of course syllabi in light of tragic scenarios) that are generally centered around student experiences. The question of whether crises also create an opportunity for growth, experimentation, reflection, and reevaluation of one’s teaching priorities is a subject that has not been thoroughly explored. The current pandemic provides an important natural experiment for exploring how collective trauma shapes teaching - and it is important to observe, learn, document and grow from it.

Alongside a presentation of results, our session will include an interactive component. Breakout rooms, hopefully each led by one of the study’s researchers, will open a guided discussion that creates an opportunity for attendees to provide critiques of our work and to discuss questions such as: What was your teaching experience like during the transition to “crisis teaching?” Did the experience challenge you to rethink what “good teaching” looked like or how you thought about your relationship to students? What would you have done differently if you could do it over again? What are you doing differently based on your experience, if anything?

In the end, we hope that participants will gain a stronger understanding of how crises impact teaching, providing them with language and greater clarity of a shared experience grounded in the latest empirical data. We hope to create a space not only for dissemination of findings, but also for reflection on our experiences and shared problem-solving and listening.

Level of Participation:

This session will be structured partly as a lecture (with some discussion) through Zoom, where portions of the research will be presented in sections by the researchers.  For a substantial part of the session, the audience will be engaged through periodic pauses to review questions posed in the chat and, audience size permitting, breakout rooms will be used to further discuss the research and experiences of the audience. Please see the extended abstract for how these breakout rooms may be handled.

Session Goals:

To share data collected thus far and insights emerging from this research – and possible opportunities where the data could inform instructors of online learning going forward.