How the Covid-19 pandemic has affected teaching styles and looking towards the future of education  

Bel Carden and Anna DeNelsky

Everyone is aware that many facets of everyday life have been altered since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mask wearing is still a very common practice, people overall are more health-conscious and social distancing is a term most everyone is familiar with. Another aspect to society that the pandemic has changed is the education system and how students learn. At the start of the pandemic, in the winter of 2020, schools shifted out of the classroom to virtual learning, mainly via the platform Zoom, to protect both the students and teachers. As the University has moved back towards in-person education, questions surrounding the long-lasting effects of the pandemic in regards to education have become more and more prevalent. To attempt to answer some of these questions, the Bucknellian reached out to staff and professors on campus to inquire more information about their experiences teaching online as well as their opinion on how education may look in the future. 

Management Professor Frank Schiener who has recently taught courses focused on investments, derivatives and student-managed investment funds feels positive about how students and faculty alike reacted in 2020 moving to fully remote education and continuing in a hybrid learning model last year. “We teach students who are generally smart, ambitious and work pretty hard, so it wasn’t surprising that our transition to a Zoom-based delivery model went relatively well when the pandemic first hit. When I look back at all the work that went into delivering our classes on Zoom, and subsequently the hybrid model, I am really proud of our faculty, without whom none of this would’ve been possible.” Professor Schiener said. He also expressed some concerns following these changes in learning mobility. “ I’ve come to understand that extending a little bit of grace during these times goes a long way. At the same time, I’m concerned that giving students a pass/fail option for the last three semesters ultimately won’t serve them well,” Schiener said. 

Other professors voiced concern about the financial turmoil felt by most families post the COVID-19 pandemic and how this may affect education. Professor of Education Sue Ellen Henry discussed how universities already see these effects. “Nationwide there are few students going to college; families are more hard pressed to pay growing college expenses, especially after COVID hit many families hard. We may see some impacts in our own enrollment patterns here — our rate of Pell-eligible [a federal program that supports the most economically in need students] has dipped in recent years.” Henry said. She also voiced concerns about students getting back to “normal” learning mobility. “Some students are having a difficult time in coursework that requires regular, intense instruction at the high school level to set them up for success here. The interruption of instruction during the pandemic and the on-going switch to remote instruction in many districts throughout the country has led to some learning gaps for some students. In other cases, the kinds of work that students do during remote instruction are not working for in person education, and students are having to adjust their habits and expectations,” Henry said. 

Similarly, Associate Professor of English Chris Camuto expressed that learning remotely is a different experience for students and professors alike, specifically within his foundation seminar. “Foundation seminars are in part, perhaps in large part, social learning ventures and depend on personal interaction on a number of levels. The Creative Writing workshop, like other seminars, needs to be an in the room, elbows on the table experience. As I told my students at the beginning of this term, I was glad to have them back as three-dimensional, carbon-based lifeforms,” Camuto said. 

Professors across the board have noticed less participation in Zoom classes, thus making it harder for normal classroom collaboration. Professor of History John Enyeart explained how it has been difficult to adapt as a teacher during these trying times. “Students are balancing a lot and faculty are balancing a lot. So trying to be mindful of that and what students could be going through at the same time. Finding a balance is really difficult. I’m now ranging from a fully engaged student to people who don’t care at all. And some people don’t care because we’re discovering people are depressed and having other mental illness issues, some people are having motivational issues and some people are also physically ill as well, so how do you balance that?” Enyeart said. 

Henry also expressed concerns about student’s mental health. “Additionally, it is still unclear what the long-term impacts are on student mental health from this on-going crisis… demands on psychological services have continued to increase, and students are reporting waning motivation and on-going mental health interruptions to their thinking and school work…Collected, these trends mean that faculty and staff need to be ever vigilant toward student needs. Students need to be thoughtful with one another about how to support each other through this extended period of difficulty,” Henry said. 

Classes that did not adhere to the traditional classroom environment also struggled to adapt. Assistant Professor of Studio Art
Eddy Lopez explains, “Teaching art and design over the pandemic presented an enormous challenge, but also incredible learning opportunities for both the students and me. For example, I teach printmaking, a modality that uses printing presses and materials we have in the Art Barn print shop. When the shutdowns occurred, I had to rethink how students could do prints at home, without access to our equipment. This opened up a dialogue with each student, to see what materials each had at home, and together we resolved things like doing prints using the body as a matrix, using kitchen materials like olive oil and soda to do lithography, and crayons to create color-reduction linocuts. The results were beautiful, and meaningful, prints created in the midst of this COVID tragedy.”

Looking towards the future of education at the University, Camuto is optimistic that learning will eventually go back to how is was prior to the pandemic. “So although we all know now how to use Zoom for meetings, emergencies, and for expanded opportunities for student conferences outside of office hours, I hope that COVID-19 has not changed how we teach at Bucknell. I think it has reminded us, if we needed reminding, that even in the digital age, traditional in-person teaching remains at the heart of a liberal arts education,” Camuto said.  

Overall as a community, students and faculty must be aware of the massive impact the pandemic has taken on education and mental health alike. Although no one can know what the future holds for education styles, school systems and educators have proven their ability to adapt.

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