Sue teaches English and Drama as Literature at RIC and is chair of the Curriculum Committee. At present, Sue is teaching all classes virtually. This is much more time consuming. It is also more challenging to keep students interested and motivated. Last spring there Sue had three classes that added up to 80 students, with 60 of these in two separate Intro to Literature classes. Fifteen students over the three classes never completed the work and failed the class. This semester she is only teaching 50 students in two different classes, which she hopes is more manageable.
Sue finds that when classes are in session, she’s actually on the computer from 8 A.M. until late in the day. That length of time on the computer is causing neck pain. Sue tries to minimize that by trying to change her posture as she works. The students submit all their work, including essays online. Then Sue makes comments and corrections and sends all the work back. The course is run through a learning management system called BlackBoard, which contains all the assignments and course materials for the students to access, and also allows her to run online Discussion forums, which are a bit like a blog. Sue has to prepare a variety of questions for these discussion groups, and it takes a lot of time to just set these up, and the instructions must be incredibly precise to guide the students. Everyone in the class has to contribute a number of entries to these discussion groups. It’s very different from the give and take conversations that can go on in a classroom setting. Sue is normally a hands-on teacher. In this virtual setting, Sue works hard to keep the students engaged. Learning in this venue is more of a struggle for the students, too. Sue can sense when a student’s enthusiasm ebbs, so she must come up with a method that will spike the student’s interest and get them back onboard. Sue is a very supportive and enthusiastic teacher, thus finds the current situation very stressful.
In addition to the challenges brought about by the pandemic and teaching virtually, there are budget shortfalls that affect everything. Some programs are in danger of being deleted, and there are fears of future layoffs. There used to be 450 English majors at RIC, but those numbers are currently way down to less than 200, not just because of the pandemic, but because of a shift toward students preferring to take STEM subjects. Because of the budget restrictions there has been a hiring freeze so they cannot rehire when a faculty member leaves, which has led to the department losing two of their five faculty who teach the usually popular creative writing courses. The department recently launched a new major concentration in Professional Writing, but it has not been sufficiently advertised to attract many new students.
Sue is grateful that she still has students, and she’s getting good feedback from them on how the courses are being run. But she’s looking forward to being back in the classroom, and also to being able to meet up with family, friends, and colleagues in person. To relax, Sue walks her dog, preferably taking walks in natural surroundings, and does yoga stretches.
Sue hopes that the vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel and hopes that enough individuals take the vaccine so that she can get back to face-to-face teaching in the fall. Another positive is, because of mask wearing and social distancing, she hasn’t had a cold all winter.