The pandemic through the eyes of two professors
For the past year, when Dr. Jeffrey Bolt got ready for his job as a professor in the School of Communication at Cleveland State University, he didn’t head into campus. In fact, he didn’t even leave his house. Instead, he headed to his makeshift office in the guest bedroom, logged on and started his day.
Professor Bolt has not been on campus to teach in over a year. Like many of his students, he does his work from home. Student communication, teaching and testing are all done from his computer.
Bolt is one of many professors at Cleveland State teaching only remote or online classes due to COVID-19. For the past year, much of the focus of the pandemic’s effects on education has been students. Professors too are dealing with the constant changes brought about by COVID-19, but they are often overlooked.
Before the pandemic, Bolt taught approximately half of his classes in person. When classes moved off campus last year, he had to adjust these classes to a remote or online format.
Bolt, who has been at Cleveland State since 2012, had many years of experience teaching online courses, so it was not altogether new for him. But adjusting all of his classes to an online format still brought challenges, although he felt he was able to teach the content well.
Like his colleagues, Bolt’s priority was his students, teaching them the materials necessary to be successful in the field of communication. Balancing that with the needs of students also in an unfamiliar environment was key.
“There’s a lot more individual concerns with students,” Bolt said. “We want to recognize the struggles that students are going through, but we still have to teach this stuff.”
It is important to Bolt not only that his students are learning the class material, but that they are learning the “soft skills” that can be applied to any aspect of life.
“We want to be accommodating. We know it’s difficult. But, at the same time, part of this skill is setting up time, working schedules,” Bolt said.
Dr. Elizabeth Thomas is another professor in the communications school. She has been teaching at Cleveland State for three years. Like most of her colleagues, she has taught all of her classes the past 2 1/2 semesters in an online or remote format.
Thomas teaches classes in promotional communication and design. Prior to the pandemic, she taught many of these classes, mostly seniors, in person in a computer lab. Now, students work with complex software like Adobe Creative Cloud from computers off campus.
Thomas said the problem was not adjusting to teaching online, it was that lab classes work better with the face-to-face interactions that in-person classes provide.
“The collaboration is much more difficult when it's remote,” Thomas said. “Even though it is a lot of individual work, I think that not having the lab where we can ask questions easily, and show each other our work easily, that’s missing.”
Without being in the classroom, Thomas has found it more difficult to work through students' issues with projects. Without the in-person environment, she is sometimes unable to get to the core of a problem.
“Students are more willing to tell me in class they are having an issue,” Thomas said.
The impact of working from home on life at home
For Bolt and Thomas, the pandemic has not only affected their jobs as professors, but their home lives as well. Neither has been to their office on campus since March 2020. After a year of working from home, Bolt said that the process of doing everything from home was starting to have a psychological effect.
“Okay, I woke up, I went ten feet to my office in my home and spent eight hours there,” Bolt said. “Then the day ended, now I move ten feet and I’m still at home.”
Bolt said his work and home life had collapsed into one another, and the necessary separation for each to work was hard to maintain.
“It’s all blurred together now,” Bolt said. “I need to set parameters; this is my time.”
Along with working from home, Thomas is also helping her 10-year-old daughter who is doing remote learning. Despite the added work, the situation became a new normal for Thomas and her family.
“It’s almost to the point where I’ve gotten a little bit used to it,” Thomas said.
Bolt and Thomas want to be back in the classroom with their students. They’re hopeful of that happening soon.
"We were all kind of thrown into this pretty quickly," said Thomas, reflecting on the university’s decision last year to take classes off campus as the coronavirus pandemic spread.
CSU’s President Harlan Sands recently announced plans for Cleveland State to return to “near normal operations” in fall.
Bolt and Thomas are looking forward to that.