Teaching Strategies

The Challenges of Teaching Through a Pandemic

The survey distributed by BC’s University Council on Teaching in November 2020 asked faculty to reflect on a single question: “What have you learned about teaching and learning in the modalities you taught this fall that you would like to share with your colleagues?” While most respondents chose to focus on what they found was working in their classes, it’s not surprising that some also wrote about the challenges they experienced, given the many extenuating circumstances they faced last fall.

You can find a snapshot of the challenges mentioned summarized below. More specific summaries have been shared with other relevant offices on campus. 

The labor involved in teaching increased significantly. 

13% of all faculty respondents noted that their teaching labor increased significantly during the past semester. The course components that required more labor varied some depending on the specific modality (accommodating remote students and building community in in-person modalities, limiting fatigue and building community in synchronous courses, and feedback and communication in asynchronous courses). However, many faculty found the following tasks more difficult no matter the modality:

  • Reimagining and planning courses for the new modality
  • Learning new technologies
  • Building out course infrastructure in Canvas, Google Docs, or other platforms
  • Completing more administrative tasks (attendance, record keeping, etc.)
  • Building relationships with and between students  
  • Supporting and communicating with students 
  • Providing feedback and grading 

More distractions impinged on the learning environment. 

In in-person and online synchronous courses, faculty found that both students and instructors were facing more distractions in the learning environment as they troubleshot technologies, spent more time on devices, contended with anxieties about the pandemic and, in the case of those classes that were meeting in-person, the cognitive load associated with public health protocols. Faculty who were “hopscotching,” or were teaching in-person classes with remote students participating on Zoom, found the level of distraction associated with that modality particularly difficult: over 30% of respondents who taught in the “In-Person: Alternating Groups” modality expressed concern about distraction in that modality. 

Technology isn’t always reliable, convenient, or easily accessible.

As instructors relied more and more on technology to conduct the regular business of teaching and learning, 10% of respondents shared that glitches or degraded audio/video quality could cause significant disruptions, that specific classroom setups could be more or less suitable to their needs, and that tech-heavy modalities like hopscotching often required bringing in multiple personal devices to work smoothly.