Faculty leader details efforts that made Fall 2020 semester possible

As we near the end of the on-campus portion of the Fall 2020 semester, the entire Lewis & Clark community can feel some pride and satisfaction in having, so far, successfully kept our campus safe enough for in-person teaching to take place. As an institution, strong faculty-staff-student relationships are what we do best, and small, in-person classes have always been at the heart of the education we offer. Almost as soon as the campus closed and courses moved online in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, LC administration, faculty and staff began preparing for Fall 2020, with the goal of continuing to offer in-person teaching and learning to our students.

It soon became apparent that the constraints placed on education by the pandemic would last longer than we may have initially hoped. If we were going to offer in-person classes in the fall, some faculty, staff and students would not be able to safely come to campus due to pre-existing health concerns. In order to make our classes open and inclusive to all members of our community, our classes would have to be hybrid: a blend of in-person and online elements. Because the college had not previously conducted hybrid courses on any significant scale, we did not yet have the infrastructure or trained faculty to support such teaching. We would have to prepare our classrooms, buildings, staff and teachers to adopt an entirely new model of learning within a few months. 

In late spring of 2020, the college began organizing working groups to accomplish this task. The groups convened covered all areas of campus functioning, including dorms, student activities, classroom technology, course enrollment and, of course, academics. On the academic side, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Suttmeier created two working groups: Fall Academic & Learning Logistics (FALL) and Adaptive Teaching for the Liberal Arts (ATLA). 

FALL’s members were Associate Professor of Chemistry and Department Chair Anne Bentley, Associate Registrar Hayley Bentley, Associate Professor of English and Department Chair Karen Gross, Professor of Music and Department Chair Michael Johanson and Associate Professor of Psychology Todd Watson, and the group was led by Associate Professor of Mathematics Paul Allen. In a June 6 email to program chairs and directors, Allen described FALL’s charge. 

“FALL is tasked with developing and communicating policy/procedure that integrates institutional/state COVID policy decisions and department/program responses, with a focus on logistics affecting academic instruction,” Allen wrote. “In particular, we are discussing how density restrictions and other COVID-related health protocols affect the academic calendar, scheduling of classes, department/program curriculum, etc.” 

ATLA’s members were Julia Broderick ’21, Associate Professor of Sociology Maryann Bylander, Director of Educational Technology Miranda Carney-Morris, Assistant Professor of Art with Term Dru Donovan, Professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Daena Goldsmith, Professor of Biology Greg Herman, Associate Professor of Theater Rebecca Lingafelter, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Department Chair Joel Martinez and Coordinator of Interactive Learning Center and Teaching Excellence Program Blair Orfall. The group was led by myself, Associate Professor of French and Director of the Teaching Excellence Program Molly Robinson. ATLA was tasked with providing guidelines and training to faculty to help them prepare for teaching in the fall. 

Both ATLA and FALL met once or twice weekly, and Allen and myself also met weekly with Suttmeier, Goldsmith and Associate Dean of Student Academic Affairs and Professor of Mathematics John Krussel. FALL’s largely logistical task was complicated by the fact that their work depended on guidance from the state of Oregon that would impact how many people could be in each classroom. For some time, we were uncertain whether the state would impose a 50% of normal classroom capacity (i.e., a room normally holding 20 people would be allowed to hold 10), or a physical distance rule (i.e., all people in a room would have to stay at 6 feet of distance from one another). This distinction had a significant impact on classroom capacities, which in turn affected many other factors, including registration and enrollment, ingress and egress into buildings, cleaning schedules, and most fundamentally, how many students for any given class would need to be online. This latter factor in turn influenced the need for particular types of technology in any given classroom, and ultimately, how the teacher would adapt the coursework to the new hybrid format.

ATLA’s task was to take all that we were learning (and in many cases still did not know) about the new parameters and restrictions placed on our teaching, and provide tools and training for our faculty to adapt their courses to these parameters. Early on, we realized that the challenges experienced by teachers in the online (and therefore also hybrid) environment were often specific to the discipline in which they taught. For example, lab professors faced different challenges as compared to professors whose courses were reading and discussion-based; disciplines that were body- and performance-based such as music, theater and PE confronted obstacles quite distinct from those dealt with in object-based art classes like ceramics, painting and photography. ATLA’s working group was constituted with these distinctions in mind, as were the workshops and trainings we offered. By the end of the summer, ATLA faculty and staff had offered four “Touchstones” workshops dealing with general principles and guidelines for adaptive teaching, and ten “Strategies” workshops offering methods and approaches that were more targeted to the specific teaching needs of various disciplines. Several of these workshops were held in what was then the very new and unfamiliar hybrid format, with some attendants in the classroom, masked and physically distanced, and others attending online. We can measure our achievement in noting how uncomfortable and anxious we at first felt holding these hybrid workshops — a task which we now do with regularity and a sense of adequacy, if not ease. 

I have focused here on preparations related to the academic work of our college, but I want to emphasize also how much crucial work was also accomplished in other areas. The Division of Student Life took on the multi-faceted effort of readying dorms, buildings and systems to welcome students back to our campus; staff across the entire college worked tirelessly on adapting their particular areas of responsibility to our new reality (heartfelt and special shout out to staff in IT and Educational Technology, who have efficiently borne so much of the ongoing logistical burden associated with our now-hybrid campus); and high-level college administrators devoted themselves to competently organizing, understanding and overseeing the whole with the cheer and optimism of strong leaders. It is worth noting that many of these people were simultaneously enduring the stress and inconvenience associated with temporary furloughs and pay cuts. 

In short, a lot of work went into making Fall 2020 happen. I know it has not been easy, that there have been real losses, and that the strain of adapting to all this change has been palpable. Still, it seems important, at this juncture of “mission almost accomplished,” to pause and appreciate how quickly and effectively this campus came together to adapt to an unprecedented global crisis.

Molly Robinson is an associate professor of French, director of the Teaching Excellence Program and faculty advisor to The Pioneer Log.

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