Lots of info today

In COVID news, undergraduates received a message today about what will look new for spring, and what remains the same. There are important changes to quarantine procedures, so please read the message (it was sent to undergrad families too).

To give a little context to the quarantine changes, one of the lessons we learned last fall was that students who had roommates or house/apartment mates were more likely to contract COVID themselves, even if the COVID-positive patient had their own bedroom and bathroom. National data suggests that about 60% of people in a household with a COVID-positive member will become infected with COVID. In addition to trying to keep students from getting sick, by moving off-campus undergraduate students to quarantine in the hotel, we hope to reduce the overall length of quarantine, as seen in this chart. A shorter quarantine should hopefully impact students’ academics and overall wellbeing in a positive way.

Another lesson learned from the fall is that when students got the call that said they needed to go into quarantine or isolation, they felt overwhelmed and it was hard to think clearly about what they needed to take with them. While I would like to think and hope that we will have little COVID on campus this spring, I am also a planner by nature, so it might be helpful for students to have a bag pre-packed with as many of these items as possible so they are ready to go if needed. The most commonly-forgotten items last semester were: textbooks, chargers and power cords, over the counter medicines (like fever reliever, cough and cold medicine, etc.), feminine hygiene products, and other toiletries. Read more.

I also want to circle back to some of the ‘Ask Me Anything’ questions from December. You had a number of great questions about academics, which I posed to some trusted colleagues on the academic side. Here goes:

How well did professors connect with their students in the fall semester?  

Anecdotally, we hear faculty deeply miss normal times and largely in-person interactions with their students–just as students miss these interactions, too. Like so many of us, our faculty and staff are juggling working and e-learning at home for their own families and kids, or anxieties and realities about illness and isolation. For all of us–parents, students, faculty, and staff–pandemic fatigue is something we want to be really mindful about. 

However, there are some really creative ways our faculty have connected with students during the Spring and Fall 2020 semester, both virtually and in-person: virtual Project Wake reading groups during orientation; small Living and Learning Community gatherings in tents; WakerSpace Take and Make Challenges (like a painting project with Classics courses); physically-distanced language conversation hours; and course film screenings. 

As we recall the above-and-beyond acts of student outreach demonstrated by our faculty: mailing goody bags to research lab students, delivering a computer charger to a student quarantining in Best Western Plus, mailing class activity kits–we also want to acknowledge creative and resilient ways students and faculty have still found to work together, despite all the challenges of teaching and learning during a global pandemic. 

Two quick examples from our Department of Theatre and Dance in the College: in the fall, with all performances shifted online, faculty and students created two rounds of audio plays in a collection titled Connected in the Deep. Performances of seven plays were recorded and released as podcasts. And eight students worked with guest director Jackie Alexander, Artistic Director of the NC Black Repertory Company, to write and perform their own monologues in Young Voices of Protest. 

Undergraduate students presented their summer research with faculty mentors through a virtual version of our Undergraduate Research Day through the URECA Center. During the spring, Department of Education students tutored local students. And our faculty continue to help their students make meaning out of our current challenges, such as the COVID-19 projects undertaken by students in Dr. Sarah McDonald Esstman’s virology class

We keep researching, learning, serving, and creating. 

During a pandemic, online activities often allow students and faculty to actually do more collaboration, active learning, etc. as they aren’t restricted by the current in-person restrictions of physical distancing and masking–we may actually see one another even if we’re on a screen, working “closer” in breakout rooms and on shared documents, focusing on the very social work of learning and knowledge-building. We heard from students that breakout rooms actually lead to interactions with other students that would otherwise probably not have happened in the face-to-face classroom setting.

Additionally, this spring, Wake Forest is encouraging more informal and formal faculty-student and student-student engagement through COVID-19 safer activities (if and when all parties involved are comfortable): physically-distanced and masked (PDM) walks to Reynolda Gardens and exploring downtown Winston-Salem; in-person PDM office hours booked in larger spaces; outdoor film screenings; pick up games of cornhole and air hockey in Reynolds Gym; volunteer shifts at the Campus Garden; and small PDM gatherings under our tents and on our abundant campus green space. With a mindful eye toward winter weather, we’d like to take more advantage of opportunities to connect outdoors. 

Make no mistake, though–these are challenges to navigate as we all attempt to translate our valued emphasis on relationships while also staying healthy, safe, and adhering to national, state, and local guidance.

Do professors have any recommendations for students for how to connect during the spring semester?

Yes! Namely, seek it out. Faculty-student relationships are one of the primary lines of communication for our students and indeed, key to the Wake Forest experience. Students are empowered to reach out to their Wake Forest professors and advisors early and often, particularly if they have any specific academic concerns. 

Office hours are one of the first resources to connect and talk through challenges–if your student hasn’t yet met with any of their professors one-on-one virtually or physically distanced and masked, we encourage them to do this in the spring. If your student can’t make office hours, most faculty are open to appointments. Students have told us that the virtual office hours are working well and that many students prefer the convenience for a quick chat or check-in with their professor.  

We also encourage students to reach out to their faculty and advisors to ask for additional opportunities for engagement. Physically-distanced and masked language conversation groups? Physically-distanced and masked small group workshops, film screenings, or check-ins? If those are something your student would be eager to have happen, that’s something we empower them to initiate. Wake Forest faculty are typically eager to have those connections.

Why aren’t as many classes and meetings held outside and in person? 

Each faculty member sets up their own class in the way that best meets the learning objectives of the course. Depending on the unique needs of each class, a faculty member may decide to hold a class outdoors, or in a tent, or not to do so–many courses were taught outside this beautiful fall. Some classes, like labs and studios, require specialized equipment. 

However, all in-person classes need to be assigned an actual learning space because of, well, namely weather. While we are fortunate to have a mild year-round climate in North Carolina, we can have hurricanes in the fall and ice, snow, or cold rain in the winter. Faculty also need to be mindful of their students’ possible allergies and concerns about accessibility. And while beautiful, our outdoor spaces are not equipped with the classroom audio/visual equipment as in our normal learning spaces. 

In addition, the public health guidance about classroom, studio, and lab physical distancing restraints have informed our strategies to protect the health of our community. Because Wake Forest traditionally prizes a low student-to-faculty ratio and smaller class sizes, in our current classroom stock, we just don’t have a lot of really big rooms (lecture halls and auditoriums) to enable a lot of students to safely be in them at once–and that was before COVID-19. As one example of how physical distancing requirements impact our classroom capacity, in the College, some of our larger, general-use tiered classrooms that normally seat 70 to 110 students only seat 26 to 28 physically-distanced during COVID-19 times. We’ve augmented our larger College classroom stock during the pandemic by repurposing some larger spaces that are not traditionally scheduled for classes, (e.g., Pugh Auditorium in the Benson University Center), thanks to University-wide collaboration and commitment to our academic mission. 

We must also abide by all state executive orders on gathering sizes indoors and out and national public health guidelines such as ones from the American College Health Association

Finally, we have devoted significant professional development through funding and organized learning to online teaching, investing in teaching, not just technology, through our Center for the Advancement of Teaching

What worked better for professors in the fall semester (as opposed to spring 2020)?

We have heard from students that faculty were more at ease and better able to take advantage of the technology at their disposal. The change from the rapid shift in Spring 2020 to the planned and prepared classes of the Fall was striking. The Peer-to-Peer Learning Communities attended by faculty just prior to the start of the Fall semester clearly had an impact on the comfort level and familiarity of the faculty to the new teaching modalities. The use of the Canvas Learning Management System by the majority of faculty, and their familiarity with the platform, made the student experience more consistent across their classes and provided a multitude of ways for faculty and students to communicate, share information, complete assignments and assessments, and receive feedback.

Many thanks to my faculty colleagues for such a comprehensive response to your questions. Our teacher-scholars are second to none – or, in Wake Forest fight song style, unrivaled by any.

— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94) – with a huge assist from my cherished faculty friends

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