A group of Clarkson University professors was recently selected to receive a grant to fund research into whether the COVID-19 pandemic created an opportunity for faculty to re-envision their teaching philosophies and priorities.
Assistant Professor of Sociology Matthew Manierre, Associate Professor of Engineering Jan DeWaters, Assistant Professor of STEM Education Seema Rivera and Adjunct Business Instructor Martha Whalen have teamed up to interview faculty to study the transformational aspects of teaching during a crisis, and to explore how the challenges may provide a space for faculty to experiment and interrogate previously held ideas about teaching and their relationships to students.
The researchers were inspired by their own experiences of transitioning into teaching online classes, which Manierre saw as a shake-up of traditional teacher/student hierarchies.
“We took so much for granted about our students when they were on campus, assuming that they have adequate shelter, good Internet access, and a quiet place to study,” Manierre said. “Those assumptions don’t hold in quarantine, and I felt like everyone around me was openly appreciating the complexity of their student’s lives and trying to accommodate and humanize the process. Something about my students seeing my house and messy office just felt like it broke down the wall between student and professor a bit. But it also opened up a set of ethical and pedagogical dilemmas that we were all improvising our way out of.”
The study, which will be funded in part by Clarkson’s Innovation Fund Project, will both survey and interview faculty from Clarkson, SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Canton, and St. Lawrence University. The research is intended to inform future discussions on how faculty are impacted by a major crisis in the midst of a semester and provide a foundation for future research.
While a small amount of research on the topic of teaching following crises exists, these studies have tended to focus on how faculty adapt and cope with acute traumas as opposed to the sustained lockdowns and losses, as is the case with COVID-19. In addition, they have focused on instrumental goals, such as syllabi adaptation, that are generally centered around student experiences. The question of whether crises also create an opportunity for growth, experimentation, reflection, and reevaluation of the teaching priorities of faculty is a subject that has not been thoroughly explored and will be the focus of the group’s research.