Teaching Through the Pandemic
The early days of the pandemic took a heavy toll on Southern Utah University faculty, as they were forced to spend Spring break overhauling their courses to be taught in a completely different modality.
After surviving the rest of the semester, faculty were faced with additional challenges such as conducting research remotely, changes to university admissions, rank advancement and tenure pausals, and uncertainties surrounding the upcoming school year.
Amidst these challenges, some members of the faculty also found time to innovate their classrooms as they incorporated new teaching methods to serve all of their students, regardless of how they chose to attend class.
Dr. Elaine Vickers – Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Dr. Elaine Vickers observed something beautiful emerge as she taught through the pandemic: the walls between professors and students breaking down while developing a strong sense of compassion for each other.
“We are recognizing each other as fully human,” Vickers said. “We are seeing that full humanity in each other that I don’t know we really did before COVID-19.”
Vickers said that this year, with faculty, staff and students, she’s really learned that “we never really know what challenges others are dealing with.”
“This fall semester, I’ve had the most students I’ve ever had coming to me and sharing with me what they’re going through, whether that was COVID-19 related or not,” said Vickers. “As a result of the pandemic, I think students and staff have become more open with each other about the challenges we’re facing.”
For Vickers, teaching at SUU is more than just a profession. An SUU alumna, Vickers earned a Ph.D in chemistry at the University of Utah before returning to Cedar City.
“The dream was always to come back to SUU and teach here,” Vickers said.
Vickers is fulfilling that dream as not only a professor at SUU, but as the director of the STEM Center for Teaching and Learning. After teaching part time for nine years as an adjunct professor, Vickers has been teaching full time at SUU for seven years.
But just because Vickers is working as a professor at SUU like she always dreamed of, she was not immune to the challenges the pandemic has thrown at her.
“This year, it’s been one thing after another, and the stamina and perseverance to meet that onslaught of [unprecedented] challenges has been the hardest,” Vickers said.
Last Fall, Vickers taught her first lecture of the semester and noticed she had a sore throat, although she attributed it to the fact that maybe she was just not used to speaking that long. Several days later, she tested positive for COVID-19.
In addition to struggling with COVID-19 herself, it was a shock when everything went completely online as a professor who relies heavily on in-person labs in teaching her students.
After attempting to teach labs online, Vickers and her colleagues decided that online labs could not be the solution to the problems created by the pandemic.
“The solution we came up with in the fall was that in-person labs were going to be our go-to, although we’ve added some leeway,” Vickers said.
That leeway includes loosening the “co-requisite” aspect of labs. If students weren’t able to be on campus for the in-person labs because of health reasons, they were given the option to take it another semester, which has never been available before the pandemic.
Like many other students and staff, Vickers learned to adapt and adjust as the year went on.
“My students have been really understanding with me and I’ve been really understanding with them,” Vickers said. “It’s been a master class of compassion for all of us across the board.”
Story by: Liz Armstrong
Photos courtesy of Dr. Elaine Vickers