As faculty members continue to navigate the uncharted waters of teaching during a global pandemic, one professor has an unexpected piece of advice for her students. “I tell everyone in my lab that this isn’t the semester to pull all-nighters and go 100%. It’s the semester to go 80% because if you’re going 100% full-out and then something else happens, you have nothing left,” said Dr. AnnMarie Thomas, a professor in the School of Engineering, associate professor in the Opus College of Business Schulze School of Entrepreneurship and director of the Playful Learning Lab.
A professor advising students to go 80% may seem unorthodox, but for Thomas, the message is about putting the well-being of students first. “We have to acknowledge that there’s a lot of trauma right now and we have to make sure that we’re not pretending that everything is normal. Our students are dealing with a lot, and this is a time where St. Thomas’ focus on connecting for the common good is really put to the test. I think we need to make students the priority.”
Thomas opted to teach her six classes this semester remotely. The decision to do so was about safety, but she also sees an opportunity to take something away from the experience. “I think we owe it to our students to be on top of this … If you embrace the technology, it works really well. In some ways, this remote model works even better than in-person and hopefully we learn from that,” she said. Thomas has been teaching her graduate-level class online for the past three years, so she is very comfortable with the technical component of the remote model. Her proficiency has allowed her to devote more time to students. This semester, Thomas made time to conduct virtual meetings with every student individually.
For Dr. Marie Lopez del Puerto, professor and chair of physics, making students the priority is about establishing a connection with each one. She always has had an open-door policy. While that access is physically limited during the pandemic, videoconferencing has allowed her to be more available to her students than ever before. “One thing I noticed is that now, if I get an email from a student, rather than just typing out a reply, I may just invite them to jump on Zoom. So that has allowed me to answer students’ questions at any time during the day, which has its advantages.”
Not all students are the same. Some are more likely to seek out help than others. Lopez looks forward to a time when she can get back to making those connections in the moments just after class. Those are the moments when she might be able to help a student that may not otherwise reach out for help. “It comes down to the connections with the students. It’s a lot harder to make those connections when you’re not running into them in the hallways. It’s all about those little connections that we’re missing,”