GRACE PRISBY, Special to The Denisonian—With a return to classes comes a return to virtual and hybrid learning for Denison teachers and students. This semester, Denison has offered fully remote, fully in-person, transitional, and hybrid classes. While learning remotely has been a struggle for many students, The Denisonian reached out to Dr. Hanne Blank-Boyd, a professor in the Women and Gender Studies department to hear her take on teaching remotely. Last semester Dr. Blank-Boyd taught completely remote to protect family members who are at high risk for complications with COVID-19. However, this semester she decided to teach in a hybrid format, teaching on campus a limited amount of days.
Dr. Blank-Boyd attributes this decision to the recent availability of vaccines and Denison’s success with controlling COVID-19 on campus last semester. She praised Denison’s response saying, “It’s a big deal that Denison has done as well as Denison has done in controlling COVID.” The school’s success is especially remarkable because as Dr. Blank-Boyd put it, “that has not been the picture at all on many campuses.”
Dr. Blank-Boyd expressed missing the in-person classroom experience. However, she does not think teaching remotely has impacted her ability to form meaningful relationships with students. She has noticed that “Denison students are remarkable and lovely in that Denisonians want to create those kinds of connections.” She went on to describe how her students have been working to participate and engage in discussions, even with the format change. Her hopeful conclusion is that virtual classes have made connecting with students “strange, different, and sometimes difficult, but not impossible.”
One student, Raina Runk, also commented on the importance of class discussions in making connections. Runk lived on campus but had a full online schedule last semester. She noted that the format and size of the class greatly impacted her ability to engage with professors and peers saying, “it was easier to connect with professors and other students when the class sizes were smaller. It also depended on the format of the class. I found it easy to connect with others in classes that were more discussion-based but it was more difficult in lecture-heavy classes.” Students and teachers agree that close relationships, an integral part of the Denison experience, are still being made even if it is through a screen.
Some challenges that have arisen for Dr. Blank-Boyd include limitations on class activities such as small group work and the difficulties in changing plans when incorporating technology. To get the best results out of a remote class, she urges students to remember that “remote learning is not the same as watching tv.”
She goes on to explain that we all tend to expect entertainment when sitting in front of a screen. However, if students want to truly learn, they must remember that even if the class is on a screen, it is still a class, and passively sitting and watching will not be helpful in the learning process. Dr. Blank-Boyd believes that “your benefit from a class is directly proportional to how engaged you are.” Blank-Boyd’s advice reminds us that remote classes are a two-way street. Denison professors have been putting in the effort to make remote learning as positive an experience as possible and it is just as important that Denison students match that level of engagement.