It’s been five years since I wrote the following piece about student-professor engagement in the online learning environment. At the time, I’d been teaching online in some capacity for about five years. Although some of my favorite online tools have changed, I still stand by the sentiment and believe that some great pedagogy can happen in the online setting. However, amid a global pandemic, I’m faced with reevaluating just how to balance student-student and professor-student interactions in a context with vastly expanded online tools and at a time when students are suffering from increased psychological, physical, economic, and technological uncertainty. With the majority of my university’s dorms closed and Chicago in and out of various types of stay-at-home advisories and mandates, students have been at the mercy of their at-home technology: shared family computers, iPads, smartphones, or whatever devices they can get their hands on. We as professors can’t very well tell them, “Well, you knew you had a paper due, why didn’t you go to the computer lab?” The labs are shuttered. We don’t want them to hang out with friends. And word on the street is that Apple is taking forever to do repairs. Who knows what they’ve got going on over there? We’re stuck and students are stuck. So, as they try to figure out how to be students in the morass of 2020, we have to figure out not only how to effectively teach online under less than ideal conditions (like while teaching third grade to disgruntled twins), but also how to do so for students who suddenly find themselves taking all of their classes in a remote environment.

2020 brings with it a whole new online ballgame. Professors must think about all of the moving parts they’re asking students to negotiate. In the past, the majority of my students were taking my online classes as one-offs, with most of their classes occurring face-to-face. COVID has changed that and forced me to rethink my entire game plan. New plan: don’t overwhelm the students to a point of implosion. If I spread my due dates throughout the week—as I have traditionally done in asynchronous online classes—and I require students to use three different learning tools (e.g. Slack, Kialo, Voicethread, etc.) outside of my university’s learning management system, what kind of chaos am I thrusting upon them? Multiply that by five or six, and how many different assignments do they have on how many different days of the week? What if they’re now using 10 different external tools? I’m sure professors are all scrambling to figure out the best way to recapture the dynamism of face-to-face interaction in the online environment. We’re trying to maintain the feel and rigor of a regular year. But regular this ain’t. During COVID, we have to step back. We have to think about how our drive to provide an excellent education may be intersecting with their abilities to survive this uncertainty and less-than-ideal learning environment. More than before, we have to proceed with grace, consideration, and even more consideration of the logistics of students simply making through their classes online, potentially quarantined, and possibly with sketchy internet service and a cellular phone. Technology has provided us with a world of opportunity as educators. Now is the time to resist taking advantage of everything at our disposal all at once.

Kelly Kessler is an Associate Professor of Media and Cinema Studies in the College of Communication at DePaul University. Her research engages primarily with the areas of gender and genre studies in American film and television. Kessler has been engaged in online learning at DePaul since 2009: conducting faculty workshops addressing online teaching techniques, developing and teaching three different online courses, and serving as the Chair of the university’s Online Education Taskforce since its 2013 creation.