Teaching in-person

by Harry on September 7, 2020

The Wisconsin State Journal ran this article (for which I was interviewed) about return to school. (For reasons I don’t understand, the article is not accessible in many countries: sorry). A colleague in the Economics department emailed me after seeing the article saying that, quite apart from admiring the picture of the back of my head, he envied me the in-person experience, and wished that the campus had a physically distance-able space for his 420-person class. The email brought into focus the thought that I’m kind of a free-rider here. If everything were in-person I don’t think I – or anybody – would be feeling safe, or enjoying it very much. But, given how we are actually doing it (with most teaching online), I feel very good about teaching in-person, and will regret it if we aren’t able to continue through to Thanksgiving (which is the plan). I have those of my colleagues who are not teaching in-person to thank.

How are we doing actually doing it? Well, it’s true, as the article says, that 43% of classes have some in-person component. Every single in-person element is small, socially distanced, and masked. And the 43% figure might really mislead you. For many classes ‘component’ is a key term. I’m thinking of a 240-person 4-credit class in which everything is online, except for 3 discussion sections. That class is included in the 43%: but out of 960-person-credit hours, only 60 are actually in-person. I don’t know the exact proportion of credit hours that are in-person, but judging by conversations I’ve had with students, and comparing the trickles of students on campus with the usual crowds I would be really, really, surprised if it is as much as 15%.

And I really do mean trickle. One of my classes is T/Th 11am in the Business School building (one of the few buildings new enough that all the rooms really were designed for learning). Usually during that slot the building is heaving with students – like Christmas shopping on Oxford Street but without the packages. Normally all the classrooms are fully occupied. Last Thursday, at what would usually be its busiest time of the week, the building was almost empty, with most classrooms free. It was no challenge at all to keep a 6 feet gap between yourself and the next person. It wouldn’t have been a challenge to maintain a 60 feet gap, if that were your preference.

[click to continue…]