Autumn Return

Planning for a fall with a mix of on-campus and remote learning, Kenyon faculty draw on lessons from spring.

By Molly Vogel

As Kenyon faculty continue their planning for a fall with a mix of in-person and remote instruction, they are drawing on the lessons learned in the crunch of spring and finding new ways to create traditional Kenyon academic excellence for students studying at home.

In just one example, members of the physics department have been devising ways to bring labs into living rooms by preparing to ship boxes of the equipment and materials needed for two physics electronics modules, including a brand new oscilloscope and devices that interface with the physics laptop loaner program, in addition to a digital multimeter, circuit breadboard, wires, a toolkit, and all needed electronic parts.

“I’ve been really excited about how our department has managed to pull this together for students this fall,” said Madeline Wade, assistant professor of physics and holder of the Harvey F. Lodish Faculty Development Professorship, Natural Sciences.

There are also plans for other lab courses to have students complete force and motion labs from home using everyday objects and their cell phones, Wade said.

Wade was one of four professors, including Provost Jeff Bowman, who recently participated in a virtual event focused on teaching and learning at Kenyon in the time of COVID-19. Bowman said he expected some lessons learned in the spring — such as the effectiveness of virtual office hours — would stick.

Claudia Esslinger, professor of art, discussed the ways her department attempted to compensate for seniors’ loss of in-person exhibitions in the spring, including with the creation of a virtual gallery. Among the surprises of the spring, she noted, was the way the use of FaceTime drew out her quieter students. “It was especially helpful for shy students, who opened up to me in a way they didn’t in person. ... We had much longer conversations than we ever would in the classroom,” she said.

Ira Sukrungruang, Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing, will be teaching two remote courses in the fall and had a similar experience with his students. “Some things worked better remotely. … Some students who were quiet in class were suddenly much more vocal,” he said.

After requiring students to respond to their peer’s work before meeting with him, he found the quality of the writing workshops actually improved. “They participated in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise,” he said, even on the occasions when his young son, dog or cat interrupted.

“It made the mood better, showed we’re all in this together,” he said of the home office disruptions.

With much yet to be determined before first-year and sophomore students return to campus to begin class Aug. 31, faculty continue to refine their plans.

Kenyon’s Center for Innovative Pedagogy has seen faculty attendance at its summer workshops, held at a time when professors are typically recharging or working on their own professional projects, more than double as they prepare for fall, said Joe Murphy, the center’s director. “In particular, retiring faculty are redesigning their classes to make sure they go out on a high note,” he said.