Higher Education 2020: a new reality

Last week, I taught my first college course in this new virtual reality.

In any other year, my first class of a new academic year would have occurred in a large classroom with 30 or so intrigued first-year students.

This time, I stood in my kitchen before a laptop, hoping my 3- month old and 4-year old’s nap time would extend long enough so I could review the syllabus.

Combining my students’ hopes of a traditional college experience mixed with my past memories of prior “first days of school” left me feeling three main emotions.

#1: I felt deeply for these students as they logged in from their bedrooms, residence halls, and dining room tables. Some expressed a desire to be on campus and I genuinely understood, as much as I could, the loss they were experiencing in a virtual higher education settings as opposed to what they initially hoped for before the pandemic.

#2: I felt sad in not physically being with them in a shared space, encountering the ritual of in-class introductions and setting before them what the next 15-weeks would bring. While I could see their faces fitting into a cozy 1-inch by 1-inch box, I missed the energy that this first class brings into our lives as we begin this new chapter together.

#3: I felt challenged to provide an academic experience that met their expectations, that would keep them engaged and fulfilled, all while hoping they stay through the storm to see better days when their time on campus would match their hopes and dreams.

This semester, faculty will attempt to create a virtual space that is innovative, clear, and effective to meet the needs of their students. Administrators and staff will work tirelessly to offer a holistic and supportive environment that responds to their needs as well. Students will do their best to learn and grow in a virtual and hybrid reality as we all learn together.

I am fortunate that my students belong to a faith-based scholarship program that I am blessed to manage. In future years, God-willing, I will see them face-to-face. Until then, we will meet from a distance.

I pray they, as well as all students (especially incoming first-year students), find hope in tomorrow while making the most of today. I hope they can overcome the poor wifi signals, distant learning, and social isolation to see a day when they will gather in class with their peers.

There is much to be grateful for, especially the gift of technology to engage these inspirational students in higher education. In the midst of the challenges, I am fortunate to see the opportunities before all of us to make the most of this experience- as best we can.

Still, on this first day of class, I cannot help but feel for this next generation of college students, for what could be- what should be. I know my fellow colleagues join me across this nation in the exhausting effort to create a space that is inclusive, informative, and transformative- despite the many challenges.

I am once again blessed to accompany over two dozen students on their journey into and through higher education- even if it is with the occasional chatter or my daughters and Elmo in the background.

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