Higher Education: Learning and Teaching Through COVID

By Tiffany Alexander

As the nation grapples with another variant of the Coronavirus, colleges in Northeast Ohio continue to find ways to keep students safe and classrooms innovative.

Though most campuses have resumed face-to-face classes – with some courses still offered online or as hybrids – professors have found pros and cons to college in the time of Covid.

“The engagement was very different,” said Tina Hobbs, who teaches film studies at Cuyahoga Community College. “It’s difficult to get the same engagement virtually. They ask fewer questions, and I have to call on students.”

Hobbs taught virtually during the fall 2021 semester and will remain online next semester.

“It’s safer,” she said. “It curtails the spread of the virus.”

At Case Western Reserve University, Michael Goldberg, associate professor at the Weatherhead School of Management, took advantage of his online class time by inviting guest speakers.

“Visitors don’t want to come into the classroom,” he said.

Fear of the virus keeps people at home. It’s also difficult to get experts to fly into Cleveland for classroom presentations. But inviting guests to participate via Zoom brings fresh, diverse voices into the fold.

“It enhances the students’ experience,” Goldberg said. “Even the busiest people can find time.”

Goldberg plans to teach face-to-face next semester, but he’s built a syllabus that makes room for online learning, just in case.

The greatest challenge at universities comes from courses that rely on hands-on learning.

Jay B. Johnson, who teaches cinematography at Cleveland State and Tri-C, had to both boost his students’ confidence and navigate Covid protocols.

“Students lost a year of being hands-on,” Johnson said. “They didn’t know how to check out camera gear, let alone use it.”

“They got better, but it was a challenge,” Johnson said. “They felt intimidated and scared, but once they got over that hill, things got better.”

Once the students were comfortable, Johnson made sure they followed film industry standards.

“We sanitized, masked, (and) quarantined the equipment just like in the real world,” he said.

Like Goldberg, Johnson plans to teach face-to-face next semester. Both think it will help the students going forward.

“In general, students are very grateful to be back in the classroom and interacting in person,” Goldberg said.

“Students become friends and eventually partners in filmmaking,” Johnson said. “They’ll create stronger bonds when they’re in the classroom together.”