The Pandemic Changed the Way Professors Teach, Maybe Forever


Photo courtesy Unsplash

Lucas Darling, Editor

When the pandemic first hit, professors were given very little warning that they were about to spend more than a year teaching through their computer screens. “On Thursday Bucks called the faculty and said they were going to do some deep cleaning, and on Friday they said we had to learn how to use zoom,” said professor Diane Rice, a criminal law and state and local government professor at Bucks.

Matthew Metcalf, the coordinator of Bucks’ historic preservation program who also teaches history and geography, echoed Rice’s sentiment. “It was a fast transition. I remember us being in the training literally the week before we went remote.”

As the coronavirus took the world into its grip in 2020, schools across the world had to take steps to make sure that their students were safe, but still learning effectively. Like every other school across the nation, it was the first time Bucks’ staff and faculty had to navigate the choppy waters of lockdown and online learning.

The way that professors teach, and the way students learn had to change drastically, and during that transition, much of the human element that happens to come with learning was lost. With students and professors miles away, a decent human connection was hard to come by. Metcalf said, “The heart of good teaching doesn’t change weather I’m in a classroom or on zoom but how I connect with students does, I did not feel at connected with my students, I was present, I was available but with a physical distance it was different.”

It was not just professors that had a tough time connecting with students because of the pandemic, other departments, like the library, were hit just as hard.

Jana O’Grady, a library technician for Bucks said, “Our job is very physical and mostly face-to-face. Going virtual was a big change and it caused a lot of backup in processing materials for the library. Thankfully, we were able to start curbside pickup and drop off where students, faculty, and staff could check out books, drive up to the Gateway Doors, and we’d come out to their car and hand them their books. We wanted to be there for the students, and I think we accomplished that.”

She added, “Not being able to see our students in person was very bizarre. We were able to email back and forth but it’s not the same as face-to-face.”

The library was not the only thing at the college that missed being hands on, Metcalf’s program was also affected, “With historic preservation, we do a lot of hands-on work, and not being able to meet made that very difficult, I had students that were working on a bridge in Perkasie and suddenly we couldn’t be on site, we were all forced to adapt.”

One of Rice’s classes also ran into a problem regarding lockdown. “State and local was impacted because of the assignment to go attend meetings.”

While we all think mainly about how the pandemic negatively affected students and professors, and rightly so, Metcalf has found a silver lining, “Am I presenting material that is meaningful? How can I reach students in new and meaningful ways? That was all forced upon us by the pandemic. It made me a better teacher despite the challenges.”

Rice also found a way to turn the pandemic into a way to teach her class, as the pandemic had forced the federal government into action, “Federalism was going on right before our faces.”

As Bucks is getting closer to being back to the way that it was before the pandemic, both professors are aware that some people would benefit from the continued use of zoom classes.

“I would absolutely teach another zoom course. I think it’s a very important resource for people who learn better in a live environment. If you work during the day or have childcare or elder care responsibilities you can’t go to campus two or three days a week, I think it will never disappear.” Metcalf said.

Rice shared a similar opinion, “Do I think it should be offered across the board every term every semester, no. Maybe add night classes that way.” Rice said that it would be good for students who work during the day to have classes that start around 7 or 8 p.m. to also allow them to deal with other responsibilities such as childcare.

Students would be given more flexibility if Bucks were to continue zoom classes as well as in person classes

As the coronavirus begins to loosen its hold on the world, much of the world looks different, and Bucks is no different. As Metcalf says, the heart of good teaching does not change, but the way that the heart of good teaching connects with the hearts of students had to.