With mixed feelings, Temple faculty prepare for hybrid teaching

As the university prepares to reopen with a mix of online and in-person classes, Temple faculty have varied concerns about online engagement and physical instruction.

A sign posted outside the Tuttleman Learning Center reminds people to follow COVID-19 safety procedures while inside buildings. | JEREMY ELVAS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Sick family members. Family-owned businesses going under. No-show students to class. 

These were a few of the dilemmas that Alisha Nypaver faced when her Sounds of Philadelphia class transitioned online last spring.

“We had developed a really close, tight-knit community,” said Nypaver, a music studies professor. “We really struggled to maintain that because a lot of students were no longer in the right headspace or had other obligations.”

As Temple University heads into fall with a mix of in-person and hybrid courses, many faculty members are preparing to teach online by participating in training programs and adapting their course syllabi, while others are actively opposing Temple’s decision to have in-person teaching amid health and safety concerns.

Nypaver, who is also an online coordinator for Temple’s General Education Program, has worked throughout the summer helping professors design online courses, meeting with instructors one-on-one to review their plans.

“There’s so many,” said Nypaver. “There’s no way I can meet with all of them, but as of right now, we’re confident that everyone will be trained for the fall.”

Temple’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching is offering options for faculty to learn how to teach online, including training webinars and the Asynchronous Online Teaching Institute, a collaborative, group learning program taught by CAT.

The webinars highlight topics like how to lecture over Zoom, create effective discussions and assess student learning using exams or quizzes. The institute allows teachers to design their online courses, gain feedback from pedagogy experts and expand their skill sets for online teaching.

Along with participating in online learning training programs, some professors are changing course assignments, planning to be flexible with deadlines to fit students’ needs.

Felicidad Garcia, a communication sciences and disorders professor, will offer her students a choice of various assignments that they can pick from in online classes this fall. Garcia has been researching active learning methods for her classes and wants to engage her students more in their learning, she said.

“Especially in the online format, I think that you want to try and appeal to all different kinds of learners,” Garcia said. “You’re not going to be there in person to walk them through.”

Nypaver plans on making her assignments more interactive and engaging by encouraging her students to participate in discussion boards and group activities with each other.

“Flexibility is key,” she said. “I really want to try to keep that idea of community. Having the students build relationships with each other while, at the same time, being respectful of their time commitments.”

Transitioning to online classes in the spring was challenging for David Brown, a public relations professor, but he said he was grateful to be able to take advantage of opportunities like having special guest speakers in class.

This summer, Brown, as the diversity advisor to the Office of the Dean for Klein College of Media and Communication, has been helping to plan how Klein and the university will physically transform the campus in the fall and keep people socially distant.

“I hope that we can follow the guidelines and be smarter about how we interact,” Brown said. “I’m anxious in a very good way to see all the students again, but I’m also mindful of the lifestyle we have on a college campus. I would hate to see it get started and then closed down again.”

But not all faculty agree with Temple’s decision to have in-person teaching and activities for the fall. On July 30, The Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP), a union representing faculty, professional librarians and academic professionals at the university, voted to issue a list of demands regarding COVID-19 health and safety conditions.

In the list, TAUP urged Temple’s administration to not assign any face-to-face work on campus for its bargaining unit members, citing unsafe working conditions and a higher risk of exposure among students, faculty and the surrounding communities. They also demanded adjunct faculty be included in discussions regarding in-person teaching and have access to no-cost health care through Temple.

Steve Newman, president of TAUP and an English professor, said that many adjunct colleagues have been put in a “take-it or leave-it proposition” with no power to decide whether their courses are online or in-person.

“It makes people have to worry about choosing between their lives and their livelihoods,” Newman said. “We don’t think that any employer should ever force that choice, least of all the university, which is supposed to have some sense of balance of higher values.”

The university chose to have a blended fall semester with remote, hybrid and in-person classes to respond to the community, as many students, especially first-year students, wanted to have an on-campus component if it could be done safely, wrote Ray Betzner, a spokesperson for the university, in an email to The Temple News. 

Temple also heard from faculty who are eager to get back on campus, Betzner wrote.

Jennie Shanker, a TAUP staff member and an instructor in Tyler School of Art and Architecture, said Temple’s colleges and departments have various concerns regarding the health and safety conditions of in-person teaching.

“When you have classes where a teacher has to directly interact with students rather than stand in front of them and lecture, for example, in a studio art class, if a faculty member is going to walk among students, they are going to be breaking that six foot distance,” Shanker said. “You need more space, even in those situations.”

In July, Temple announced their plan to de-densify classrooms on campus, including reducing their in-person classroom capacity from more than 15,600 available seats to roughly 3,300.

Along with adapting course assignments and de-densifying classroom spaces, the university is also adopting a standardized attendance policy to accommodate students who become ill and need to isolate, according to a university announcement.

Using an online attendance system, instructors will be able to keep track of students who miss an in-person or synchronous class and this will enable contact tracing in case a person tests positive for COVID-19. Absences due to COVID-19 symptoms will not be penalized and no formal documentation will be required, according to the announcement.

Yet, despite whether they’re opposing Temple’s model of teaching plan or not, faculty are aware and share concerns that their peers and students have about their health, safety and learning experience, Newman said.

“I do think that students can essentially negotiate and work together with their faculty members to basically form a community where they have consensus among themselves about how the class can be fulfilled in a way that does not create increased risk for anyone,” Shanker added.

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