Professors and students reflect on a very different first week of classes

Students gather in Cashion Academic Center for in-person class. Ava Sanborn | Photographer

By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer

As the first week of classes wraps up, students and professors begin the process of adjusting to various changes to both in-person and online-based classes. Different departments on campus have approached their courses in varying ways based on their needs, and they each have a unique story to tell.

While in-person classes are now a possibility on campus again, many precautions have been laid out to reduce the risk of coronavirus spread as faculty have been given a checklist for the start of the semester.

Baylor University Provost Nancy Brickhouse said that for in-person classes, students are required to space out and wear a mask. The university is also placing smaller classes in larger meeting spaces.

“We’re using Waco Hall for instruction for the first time in a long time since Chapel is not being held there,” Brickhouse said. “We’re using it for classes and it’s working out, from what I saw yesterday, quite well.”

Changes have also been made to the attendance policy as students are asked to stay home if they have any symptoms of COVID-19.

To assist with distanced learning, cameras have been installed in classrooms throughout campus. If a student has to miss a class due to symptoms, an automatic recording of each class session can be uploaded to Canvas.

Jeremy Lindsay, project manager for Learning Spaces, and Nils Holgersson, manager for Classroom Technology Support, said that there are various levels of video technology in the rooms.

“We’ve got some rooms that have a control pan tilt zoom camera all the way down to rooms with a document camera and some software that allow the faculty person to capture the class or have synchronous capability, like using Zoom or WebEx,” Holgersson said.

After each class, the recording is automatically uploaded to Canvas and the professor can choose to go in and publish the video for students to view.

In-person classrooms also feature socially distant seating charts posted online and on the walls of the classroom.

After the first few days of in-person teaching, Luke Sayers, graduate student and professor of English 1310, said that the biggest change he has noticed with in-person teaching is the distance.

“The class doesn’t feel quite as close and conversational,” Sayers said. “It also changes the way I think about assignments because everyone needs to stay apart.”

As a graduate student, Sayers is experiencing being both a teacher and a student at the same time. For his own studies, he has one online Zoom class and one independent study course in which he does most of the work on his own.

“I got more out of the Zoom classes [last semester], because I was able to stay focused on the class and still talk to my peers and I feel like I learned a lot more,” Sayers said.

As a professor, Sayers said he wants to keep an open forum in his class for students to give feedback on how his class is run.

“I hope I can create an environment where students feel comfortable in talking about those things,” Sayers said. “I want to be sympathetic to the fact that it is very different for them. It’s not just different for me as a teacher, but they’re going through big changes too.”

Online courses have taken on various new forms as well.

Dr. Andrea Dixon, associate professor of marketing in the Baylor Business School, teaches a class in the fall which coincides with students’ internships.

The students typically get experience giving live presentations in a large setting, and Dixon said she wants them to have experience talking to a senior executive in a business setting. She said that she has had to shift the way they approach this through virtual meetings.

“I don’t have a doom and gloom attitude toward what we’re doing,” Dixon said. “I see these experiences as being helpful for students to be prepared for what’s going to continue. This is not going to go away, even once we have a vaccine. We will have an opportunity to leverage technology in business and in higher education in a way that allows our students to be better prepared for how the world will operate.”

Other departments face changes as well.

Houston senior Kailey Kolb, a choral music education major, said her choir classes will be virtual for the first two weeks. They plan to resume in-person classes after that with the potential of being in outside tents.

Kolb is a part of Acapella Choir with about 47 students and Chamber Choir with about 20 students.

“In the Zoom calls with Chamber singers, those have definitely been more intimate so we’ve been able to get to know each other a lot better over Zoom whereas in Acapella, not so much,” Kolb said.

Kolb said that during Zoom meetings, they are able to separate by section into smaller groups.

“If you’re a soprano like me, then you just were with sopranos, and that was only about nine people so it was easier to get to know them because it was a smaller group, so [my professor] has been doing things like that too,” Kolb said.

Dr. Michael Alexander, professor of music education, said that while his class meetings have gone well virtually, he is able to meet in a large rehearsal space during the third week of classes.

“Face-to-face stuff is so much faster if I’m present with all of them at the same time,” Alexander said. “I can check what they’re doing. I can answer questions quicker and faster.”

While many areas of campus are experiencing change and adaption in different ways, both professors and students have expressed their excitement for being back on campus.

Brickhouse said that most faculty members she has talked to are feeling positive about what the university has put into play and have followed safety protocols and illness monitoring well.

“All of that right now looks as though we’re in a pretty good position in terms of being able to live around a really healthy fall,” Brickhouse said.