Adapted teaching should continue in new post-pandemic normal, researchers say

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Many college students and instructors are yearning to get back to full face-to-face instruction in a classroom setting, after an abrupt shift to remote learning when the novel coronavirus pandemic struck earlier this year.

But according to researchers at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, a new, post-pandemic normal is likely to emerge. And instructors can utilize some tools and concepts that became common during remote learning to further advance learner engagement in this new normal when students return to the traditional classroom.

“I don’t think we want to go back 100% to where we were pre-COVID,” said Ed Glantz, teaching professor of information sciences and technology.

In a new paper that appeared in the proceedings of the ACM Special Interest Group on Information Technology Education (SIGITE) Conference, which was held virtually on Oct. 7-9, Glantz and Chris Gamrat, instructional designer in the College of IST, argue that insightful lessons provided and tools adopted during the pandemic should be considered in future teaching — including the continued use of mixed class-delivery modes and supplemental recordings.

“Higher education’s value proposition is changing along with financial pressure to lower cost and increase service provided,” the researchers wrote in the paper, titled “The New Post-Pandemic Normal of College Traditions.” “The benefit from simultaneous recording is an example of increasing service to engaged students rather than forfeiting the learning opportunity from a temporary absence.”

The researchers also provide useful insight into the hybrid flexible (hyflex) teaching model adopted at Penn State during the fall 2020 semester, where faculty and students collaborate simultaneously in both online and face-to-face scenarios.

“Hyflex provides exactly the flexibility needed for teaching during a pandemic while offering insights into new modes of teaching that might supplement traditional face to face,” they wrote.

Glantz, who explored best practices in recording lectures in the classroom and their uses for reflective teaching as part of his Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) faculty fellowship in 2019-20, was well prepared for the shift to remote learning in March. He had been working to promote the benefits of supplemental recordings for classes to ensure that students who needed to miss class would have full access to the lecture and course material.

“I started using the recording capability to make classes available for students who were absent,” said Glantz, noting that small groups of students in his large sections often needed to miss class for athletics, professional interviews or conference travel. “It’s a small group of people that can’t be included in the live lecture, but they unfairly become disenfranchised from the classroom experience.”

While Glantz’ experiences have certainly proven useful during the pandemic and in past semesters when students needed to be absent from class, he also envisions other benefits of supplemental recordings and hyflex models — including inclement weather that prohibits students from traveling to campus, for students who speak English as a second language and may need more time with the material, or during times when instructors need to miss class due to professional travel.

He also encourages students, faculty and staff to embrace the benefits of other changes that have become normal during the pandemic, such as travel time saved through remote meetings or boosted productivity of working from home.

“One of the biggest takeaways I want to come from this research is to not lose any of the positive innovations or changes to traditions that we’ve uncovered as a result of COVID that might be a better practice than what we were doing before,” he concluded.

Glantz has two other papers with separate research teams that are also in the conference proceedings: “Cross-Boundary Cyber Education Design”, in collaboration with David Fusco, associate professor of information sciences and technology, and Penn State Berks’ Michael Bartolacci, professor of information sciences and technology and Mahdi Nasereddin, associate professor of information sciences and technology; and “Teaching Adversarial Machine Learning”, in collaboration with Collin Payne, a senior pursuing an undergraduate degree in computer science at Penn State.

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