Tag Archive | pandemic

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Cases and Quarantines – 09/20/2020

Continuing my reflections on what it has been like here in the first quarter of the semester, I wanted to reflect some today on the cases and quarantines.

We have a real issue with the number of cases and quarantines, and that has mostly to do with HIPAA. We are not allowed to ask about private medical information, and the college is not allowed to publish names of those who have tested positive. We have a general requirement on campus that is as follows:

Employees are expected to immediately notify their supervisor and the Department of Human Resources. Supervisors are expected to report on behalf of employees if the employee is not able to self-report. Employees should contact the Department of Human Resources once physically able to do so. Employees may be eligible to use COVID-19 leave if they meet certain federal requirements. Employees who have tested positive may return to work as recommended by their health care provider, normally after a 14-day isolation period. Supervisors will be responsible for assistance with contact tracing. This is critical to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Supervisors will be expected to retrieve the employee’s daily log of appointments with the help of Technology Services and report the information to the Department of Human Resources.

Students are expected to report positive tests to the Student Services Department. The Student Services Department will work with the student to develop contact tracing in the event the student was on a College campus while COVID-19 positive. Students who have tested positive may return to F2F classes as recommended by their health care provider, normally after a 14-day isolation period. All medical information collected will be held in strict confidence in accordance with legal requirements.

Name/severity of conditions will not be identified in any notification the College is required to release. The Department of Human Resources will be responsible for notifying employees of information; Student Services will be responsible for notifying students of COVID-19 positive contacts.

That is a very long set of rules on what must be done. However, you will note that the first sentence of each of the first two paragraphs includes the word “expected.” That is what worries me.

Here is what I know:

  • I have had two cases of students who have been quarantined in my hybrid courses from exposure to someone who was positive. Both are students who self-reported to me that this was the case, and neither had actually been in class since they were exposed.
  • I have two students who were reported to me as being quarantined. The softball team was exposed with at least one positive COVID-19 case on the team. They are all quarantined. I have two softball players in my online classes, and so I was not exposed to them.
  • There have officially been 17 positive COVID-19 cases reported on all campuses, which is 13 students and 4 faculty/staff

That’s the extent of what I know. And my worry goes back to the question of “expected.” I expect that our case count on my community college should be low. The majority of our students are commuter students. We have a small dorm population (under 300 for a campus of about 6000 students), and so there is less opportunity for spread from a dorm-living situation as there is at a lot of 4-year universities. So, the majority of what would be here would be community spread. And, if everyone is wearing their mask and behaving responsibly, then there should not be that much spread.

However, without widespread testing and with only an “expectation” that people report, I don’t really have any idea what is going on. I assume that we are doing relatively well, and our numbers are certainly low. In fact, I sincerely hope that we stay very low in cases. I just worry if we are getting the whole picture.

This is not unique to my college at all. It is the same thing I worry about going out in public anywhere that we go. I have two sons who are also going to my community college, and so realistically, there are three of us scattered throughout college buildings and classrooms who could be exposed. One of my sons had his class meet virtually last week because the professor had positive cases in the class, but I don’t know when those cases were and if my son was exposed. Both of my daughters are currently in online schooling, but we are considering sending the youngest back to in-person school, as the online schooling is really rough on all of us. That will be one more exposure vector to worry about. And, for each of us, there’s the question of bringing it back to a 6-person household.

(And, as an aside, yes, we had an encounter at a local store last week where there was a family of five where none were wearing masks in a store where masks are required. Not only were they not asked to leave or wear a mask, but the young kids were running up and down aisles while the husband was calling people who showed displeasure at their behavior “sheep” for wearing masks. He was very obviously looking for a confrontation, and we quickly wrapped our shopping up and got out of there.)

So, what I can say is that I am worried. I’m worried that there are more cases than reported, both at the college and in the larger community, because we don’t have widespread testing. I am worried that, despite everything we are doing to try and stay safe, simply the fact that a number of us are going out of the house and into public regularly means that we are going to bring it home.

But what I really worry about is the problem of how hard it is to prove a negative. Every time I think about it, I can see ways I could be exposed. It is hard to prove safety from exposure. It is hard to prove that everyone around me has been trying to be as safe and protected as I have been. It is hard to know what level of risk I’m at on a day-to-day basis.

I hope that there are only 17 cases at the community college where I work, and I hope that everything I am doing is keeping me and my family safe. But I don’t know. To echo how I ended my last post, it is just one more thing…

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Mask Requirements? – 09/19/2020

We just finished up Week 4 of the semester, and I wanted to put in a couple of thoughts on how it has gone. I’m going to break this up into a number of posts, just so that this is not just one really long post.

Today’s topic is masks.

Sigh.

Masks.

Yes, we have a mask wearing requirement at my community college. I am fully in support of that policy, and I have not had any people in my classes who have been openly defiant or confrontational about masks. However, that does not mean this has all been easy.

I am a very hands-off professor when it comes to what students can and cannot do in the classroom. I have traditionally allowed all levels of eating and drinking, allowed students to come and go as they choose, had a minimal attendance policy, and largely allowed them unlimited access to technology during class.

The only time that I am not very lenient is if whatever the student is doing is noticeably distracting others who are trying to learn. This most often comes up with regard to cell phones or laptops, but it has also come up with food before – there are just some foods that are inherently distracting.

Now, with masks, it has become something that I have to deal with every day. The campus has a clear mask policy, as in they are required at all times on campus. From what I have seen, most students (and those who enforce it) don’t apply that much to students walking around outside, but it is certainly to apply to those in class.

Here is what our policy says:

“To avoid confusion and promote consistency, … masks (face coverings) are a requirement for presence anywhere on … campuses.”

Everything beyond that is up to the instructor in the classroom. So, for someone who is generally hands-off, I am the one who has to monitor what face coverings are being worn and whether they are being worn properly. Again, this has not been a problem in any of my classes so far, but it is something that I worry about. In other words, it ends up being that one more thing to think about each time I’m in class.

As of this week, we have also been told that our failure to ensure that masks are being worn and being worn correctly will result in us being written up. So, it is not just my responsibility to monitor, but it is also my responsibility to enforce. Again, it is not that I do not agree and not that I personally would feel a lot safer if everyone is wearing masks correctly in a classroom with relatively poor ventilation that we all sit in for 75 minutes at a time. It is more that this becomes just that one more thing.

We are already navigating a new semester, a new set of students, new expectations on social distancing, last minute changes to instruction, teaching with both social distancing and masks (I really don’t mind teaching in a mask, but that’s for a later post), and just the general atmosphere of anxiety and fear. To add to that the need to enforce mask requirements among my students is just another thing to add.

And, yes, I know this probably seems quite minor, and again it has not been a major issue. It just is one more thing. And this is a semester of a lot of one more things …

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Campus Guidelines – 08/28/2020

In trying to figure everything out on how to teach in a pandemic this semester, we received a lot of different emails from administrators and staff at my college. I had to clarify and render all of the different information down into a format that I could present to my students. I just thought I would share here what that ended up looking like. I am going to share the one from my hybrid classes as they are the ones who have to come to campus at some point.

This is what my syllabus starts with this semester:

COVID-19 Information

Due to the COVID-19 situation this semester, the following restrictions are in place for the Fall semester:

  • Teaching and workspaces will be limited to 50% of maximum capacity. Students in this class will be divided into two cohorts, with each cohort meeting on either Monday or Wednesday. This cohort division will be visible in the Canvas classroom and will be communicated to you via email and Canvas Announcement. You will not be allowed to attend class on a day when your cohort is not allowed to attend.
  • Same day attendance tracking through Canvas is mandatory for all hybrid classes. 
  • Assigned seating is mandatory for all hybrid courses.
  • A student reporting potential illness serves as sufficient grounds to excuse the absence. This means you are not allowed on campus or in the classroom if you: 
    1. have current symptoms of illness
    2. have been exposed to someone who has symptoms of illness and have not yet been cleared by a health professional to return to class and/or passed the quarantine stage
    3. have received a positive test for COVID-19 and have not yet been cleared by a health professional to return to class
    4. are quarantined because someone you have been in contact with has received a positive test for COVID-19
  • Students who are COVID-19 positive must report this status to Student Services. Students are not required to disclose symptoms to anyone, including your instructor. This means that you do not have to tell me anything more than that one of those 4 conditions above applies to you (and you do not have to tell me which one).
    • If you are actively sick with COVID-19, you are not expected to complete work for the class at that time. If the symptoms are mild, you are welcome to keep up with the work as you feel able to.
      • You will contact the instructor once your sickness has ended to see about what make-up work will be needed.
    • If you are quarantined but not actually sick, you are expected to keep up with all assignments for each week as if you are in the cohort that is not coming to campus. You are not allowed on campus during the quarantine, and so even if your cohort is to meet in-person that week, you will be online only that week.
  • In the event of a COVID-19 positive confirmation in a College building, the institution will:
    • Identify locations impacted and implement cleaning protocols.
    • Complete trace procedures to identify those who may have come in contact.
    • Notify those who may have come into contact while protecting the identities of the COVID-19 positive individual.
  • Employees and students will self-monitor temperatures as well as other COVID-19 symptoms through the wellness self-check.
    • Students shall be introduced to the wellness check during the first class meeting. Self-check signage/messages will be posted in classrooms and workspaces.
  • It is the responsibility of the student to have and wear a mask. A student who cannot wear a mask but who does not have an approved exception should not take face-to-face classes. If this applies to you, you need to go to Student Services to see about moving to an online class.
  • Eating and drinking occur in private offices when a lone occupant is present or outside College buildings, where the College has provided seating. Classrooms and instructional support locations are never eating or drinking sites.
  • Breaks from classes to allow for personal wellbeing are allowed and encouraged. 
  • Students and faculty are encouraged to bring wipes if they so choose and to clean their workspaces before and after uses. Disinfectant wipes should be placed in the wastebasket in each classroom after use.
  • We are maximizing fresh air flow into College buildings to decrease the potential virus load. Classroom and workspace doors shall remain open when occupied. All unoccupied rooms will remain locked.
  • Faculty Office hours will be maintained with student visits occurring by appointment only. Maintain social distancing at all times and keep records of visits for tracing purposes. Faculty members are encouraged to conduct meetings via Skype, Big Blue Button, or Zoom when telecommunication serves the student.

You will be required to confirm during the first week of class that you understand and will abide by these restrictions. If you do not agree to abide by these restrictions, you will need to go to Student Services to be transferred to an online class if available. 

Finally, if things change through the semester, I will contact you with what the changes are and how that will affect us as we move forward.

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – Fall Semester (?) – 8/21/2020

I write this on the near-eve of starting back to the Fall semester. There has not been a semester like this before in my lifetime, for sure.

I finished up a fully-online summer session just last week, although that was not unusual for me, as I normally teach online-only in the summer. The only two differences were that I did not have access to a testing center for my students and I did not hold any face-to-face office hours. That saved me a bit on gas, not having to commute to campus (about a 50-mile round trip), but the effect was largely the same as any other summer. So, my summer teaching in a pandemic was barely different than my normal teaching in the summer.

This coming semester, however, is going to be intense. It is going to be uncertain. As of right now, the Friday before the semester starts on Monday, there are still a number of things in the works and decisions that have not been finalized, leaving a lot of things in the air.

I am, much like in the summer, fairly well positioned already for this upcoming semester. I already teach online, which is what 3/5 of my classes are this semester. The other two classes are hybrids that have run about 70/30 online/face-to-face, meaning that they are also pretty much ready to go with only minor adjustments. The only thing giving me anxiety about them right now is the question of if I am going to have to hybridize my hybrids. Both of them are in classrooms where the full class cannot meet at one time and still maintain social distancing. There are two ways this can work out this semester:

  1. If bigger rooms can be found for the two hybrid sections, then they will run just as normal hybrid classes this semester.
  2. If not, then I have to hybridize the hybrids. That means that there will be two cohorts of students, and half will meet on one week and half on the next week, with each student ultimately meeting face-to-face for half of the normal number of sessions. For a hybrid class that would only meet 16 times a semester, that would mean each student only meets 8 times, with the rest of the class being fully online.

I call this hybridizing the hybrid because all face-to-face classes are already being hybridized at my community college. The classes are being divided in half if they are not in a room large enough for everyone to fit, and then half meet on the first day of the week and half on the second.

And, just as a side note, I will not know if I get option 1 or 2 above until sometime early in the coming week. And, when it is known, there is not a clear indication of how I am going to get every student to know what changes there might be, especially if some of them are not to show up on the first day we meet (Wednesday).

If this all sounds really complicated, it is. It is stretching all of our imaginations, our resources, and our capabilities across the college. But we are managing so far. It is nobody’s fault that things are this way, but it certainly makes everything difficult.

I will return soon to talk more about what this semester looks like, but that’s where we stand at this point.

Thoughts on Teaching – Teaching in a Pandemic – 7/28/2020

It is no coincidence that my last post here in the blog was just before I started up teaching again. It is my standard online summer class, and so there is no direct effect on my teaching from the pandemic except for the switch to take-home tests since our testing center is closed.

However, life has been busy beyond just the teaching. So, let’s catch up on a few things (maybe this one should be called “Life in a Pandemic.”

  • I have been attending a number of workshops, conferences, and meetings (all virtual). I don’t think I have ever had as much choice of things that I can attend related to teaching, and I have been trying to do as many as I can, as free and professional development are two words that do not often go together.
  • My youngest daughter is at a Montessori school. The school started a summer session in early July. They offered it for free to help the students catch up on what they might have missed from all of the disruptions in the spring. It lasted two weeks, then they shut it down for a week because one person tested positive, then it came back for 2 days, and then it was shut down for good when our county shut down all public and private (but not religious private) schools until September 28.
  • My oldest daughter, who is entering her senior year of high school, was given the choice between going face-to-face or online this coming school year. We left that decision up to her. What she decided was to go online-only. When looking at all of the guidelines, she thought it was too uncertain to even try face-to-face. Of course, as noted in the previous point, her school will also be affected by the online only until September 28, but she was going to do that anyway.
  • My sons, who both just finished up their freshman years at 4-year universities, have made the decision to go to my community college for the moment. I’m not going to go into the reasons specifically, but this was something we had all been hashing out over the summer. It is definitely hard to justify paying the money for a university (especially the one going to a private university) that may or may not be running and may or may not be having in-person classes. Both may stay as long as two years at my community college, as they can largely get what they need there for a while.
  • Finally, there’s the question of what I’m doing in the fall. There is no official word from my community college that anything has changed. The schedule that students are signing up for now is the same as the one published prior to the pandemic with some more online classes added. I am scheduled to teach 2 hybrid sections and 3 online sections, which would be my normal Fall load. But there is just too much uncertainty to know how all of it is going to play out. I’m in better shape then many, as I have a fully ready online class, and that is over half of what I am teaching anyway. I do not know yet if my hybrid will actually be a class that meets face-to-face or not, but that is where we are going so far. With all of the uncertainty, that’s really all I can say at this point.

So, there we go. Everybody in the family is up in the air. All six of us are back to living in the house, although that’s not as much of an adjustment as some, since the boys were only gone from the beginning of the Fall semester last year through Spring Break. I guess we shall see if we get any more clarity as we move forward.