Veteran biology lecturer Ann Koga came to an honest conclusion after a few weeks of teaching her introductory biology course this fall. The class, which included both classwork and a lab, consisted of first-term freshmen, many of whom were learning remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was rough to start off remotely with brand new freshmen,” Koga admitted. “It took me a while to realize that they didn’t know how to find the syllabus or how to keep track of due dates for assignments. These problems have always been solved by talking to roommates or RA’s or the sophomore next door.”
Old routines didn’t always work in the current online setting, so Koga – like many faculty members – changed how she did things. When the College allowed for hybrid learning in mid-September, permitting some in-person instruction, Koga and fellow biology lecturer Wendy Harvey teamed up to bring students into their biology lab.
“We paired ‘in-person’ students with a remote lab partner,” Koga said of the hybrid teaching model. “The students brought their laptops to the lab and connected with their remote partner, who could watch, record data, time experiments, et cetera.”
The results, Koga said, were tremendous. The in-person students were thrilled to be back in a classroom setting while the remote students were able to engage in an effective and educational way.
It’s one of many examples of adjustment witnessed by Provost David Douglass, who serves as the dean of faculty at the College.
“Our students and our faculty are astonishingly resilient,” Douglass said. “They’re finding out ways to deal with the challenges of teaching and learning online, the challenges of restoring their own sense of morale and finding bright spots.”
Like Koga and Harvey, another example is longtime political economy professor Kerry Hunter who, despite teaching online courses, isn’t simply sitting in front of his computer. He’s still teaching in his classroom.
“He’s teaching to an empty room, but he’s able to move around and use the whiteboard,” Douglass explained. “Even though he’s teaching completely online, he’s still able to give students a sense of the way he normally teaches.”
Rachel Miller, a Maine native who just completed her first semester as an associate professor of history at the College, compared the situation to getting one’s sea legs: a person finding his or her balance after boarding a boat. The boat, in this instance, was the online setting of the Fall term.
“At first I was nervous that students would be horribly bored and inattentive, and that I’d never be able to tell if they were alive or awake, let alone learning,” Miller said. “There were certainly some quiet days, but when student interest in the material was sparked and shared with their peers, I felt the same energy that transforms every good classroom.”
Douglass says the College will begin the Spring term in January in Phase 4 of the re-opening plan, meaning current regulations will remain in place. Douglass admitted he initially felt the hybrid model – where some students are in-person and others join the classroom remotely – was the ideal solution. His opinion has changed, though, saying, “it is very tough to get both right.”
So the College is focused on improving the quality of its online offerings during the pandemic. Investments have been made in upgrading technology from cameras to microphones and speakers. Students who elect to return to campus will have the option of attending some classes in person and there will be some hybrid courses offered. But, at least during this spring term, most courses will remain online. The College’s goal is to return to full, in-person learning. To that end, the administration remains engaged in regular dialogue with health officials to find a time when it is safe for faculty and students to return to the classroom full-time.
“I think we’ve come an extraordinary distance in learning the culture of being online, teaching online, and learning online,” Douglass noted. “I think our faculty and our students have done simply amazing work under such trying conditions.”
The College of Idaho has a 129-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition, and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.