Graphics by Sarah Schudt
By Emma Gomez, Arts & Entertainment Editor
Professors at Moraine Valley have recently had to step back and reassess their courses, weighing academic rigor against the stress of a mentally taxing pandemic.
Academic rigor, by definition, means to keep high or challenging standards for students, allowing teachers to set the pace for their courses in terms of difficulty. Professors around the world gave their input on rigor in a recent article by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“If it’s rigorous, I don’t think it has to be hard to the point where it’s impossible–because what silliness is that?” said Moraine Valley communications professor Eric DeVillez. “The idea is for people to succeed, but it has to be challenging enough for students to lean in and do hard work.”
Over the course of the pandemic, professors have been forced to take a new approach when it comes to teaching, following a dramatic decline in student engagement.
“I think the challenge is balancing the academic rigor with the context of everything in students’ lives thrown into chaos,” said Bill Hogan, a Moraine communications professor. “The challenge has been just trying to be as lenient and understanding with what’s going on in students’ lives and how difficult their circumstances are.”
To ensure the priority of student’s mental health, in many cases, professors have also had to adjust the rules they uphold in their classroom as well as throughout their courses.
“I got rid of any attendance penalties in my classes and even reward attendance,” Hogan said. “I offer extensions on all assignments as long as students ask, encourage revisions, and just try everything I can to make the pressure of assignments easier.”
Once the pandemic hit full force, Moraine Valley had two weeks to prepare instructors and professors for a year of classes online, with The Center for Teaching & Learning taking the lead.
“It happened in a couple different phases. March 2020 was chaotic,” said Sara Gallagher, assistant dean of the CTL. “First couple of weeks was hard; it was just trying to help professors. Something new kept happening. We just kept preparing for two weeks, just two weeks.”
At that time, The Center for Teaching and Learning developed a self-guided course to quickly educate faculty on how to teach online. This course was entirely on Canvas to help faculty navigate the application on which their in-person classes were now to take place.
During summer of 2020, Moraine enacted “remote emergency learning” to help fill the gaps not covered in the previous presentation. At this point, The Center for Teaching and Learning worked one-on-one with professors and provided resources to help ease the transition.
According to Gallagher, the classes that took place directly following the pandemic weren’t considered up to par with best practices in online learning.
“Even though some people called it online learning, it really wasn’t.” said Gallagher. “No one had weeks or months to plan a course and look at it and have someone review it.”
You can get an A in an online class now and learn less than you did if you got a C in a class two years ago.”Sophomore Mike Pocza
Professors aren’t the only ones feeling the transition, as students have expressed similar side effects. Some say classes are more difficult, while others say the switch to online can sometimes make a class too easy.
“You can get an A in an online class now and learn less than you did if you got a C in a class two years ago,” said sophomore Mike Pocza.
Adam Abed, a Moraine Valley sophomore, believes the opposite, saying online courses are harder due to an increased workload and lack of clear communication.
“Students sometimes have to wait 24 hours or more if they have a question,” said Abed. “It’s hard for students to meet these deadlines because most students have jobs nowadays and sometimes random family occasions or even emergencies.”
Students express frustration that some online courses make them feel they are teaching themselves the material because they are just assigned to read from a textbook and take quizzes week after week.
“Teaching yourself is another difficult part to it,” says business major Veronica Kobylak. “Like yes, there will be videos if you’re lucky, but we need steps and examples on why we’re doing it and how we’re going to do it. It takes a big mental toll on me.”
Sometimes the challenge to keeping classes intense is the student engagement itself, which has declined since the pandemic, alongside attendance.
“Leave them alone,” DeVillez said laughing. “I think that’s one thing my students love and hate about me is that I’m not gonna leave them alone.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Moraine Valley has prioritized the mental and physical health of each student, even though it was not always easy and the situations were not ideal.
“I’m just very proud,” Gallagher said. “I’m proud of our student population. I’m proud of our faculty, how everyone just took a moment to really think about what was important in trying to do their best during a difficult time.”