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Faculty are back and excited to teach in the classroom again

By Taylor Jaseph, Mar. 22, 2022

With 70% of classes back in person, Cal Poly Pomona faculty members are happy to be back despite reservations about the health and safety of their students and themselves.

After two years of blank Zoom tiles, faculty and students are feeling comfortable in the classroom because of the mask and vaccine mandates enforced by the university.

“For students, for many faculty it’s been stressful,” said Jill Hargis, interim associate vice president for faculty affairs and a professor in the Department of Political Science. “They’re worried about their health. They’re worried about the health of their families. I think the longer we’re on campus, the less stressful it gets.”

CPP was deliberative in its in-person transition, planning how to keep people safe amid the pandemic. For faculty, not much has changed other than teaching while wearing a mask.

Paul Nissenson, associate chair and professor of the Mechanical Engineering Department, would rather teach in a mask if the other option was Zoom. Through Zoom, Nissenson saw how much he lacked a critical aspect of communication because he couldn’t see his students. He didn’t know whether his students understood him because he was missing the nonverbal cues.

“One of the reasons I became a teacher — other than I knew I wanted to be a teacher for a very long time — is that I really liked the experience of talking through an idea with someone and seeing that they understand it,” Nissenson said. “I didn’t really appreciate this until the pandemic and that was taken away from me. But it is that human engagement that I think really provides a lot of motivation.”

While the transition to remote learning was unforeseen, the campus was able to make the transition back in person more slowly, helping faculty ease back amid uncertain times.

California Faculty Association Pomona Chapter President Nicholas Von Glahn, vice chair of the Academic Senate and professor in the Department of Psychology, knows there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the situation, but he wants the safety of faculty and students to be the campus’ highest priority.

“I was really glad President (Coley) made a good call due to the Omicron surge to delay (the return to in-person instruction),” Von Glahn said. “Although that wasn’t fun and hasn’t made this semester easier for the faculty or the students, I think it was the right call because health and safety is paramount.”

Von Glahn was somewhat hesitant to return in person as his young son was unable to be vaccinated. On his first day back, he was in a classroom with a fire code occupancy of 48 with 48 students. When some students didn’t show up after the first meeting, because attendance isn’t mandatory, he felt more comfortable.

Many faculty appreciate the vaccine and mask mandates required to be on campus. Von Glahn hopes the mask mandate continues in classrooms, despite Los Angeles County recently easing its indoor mask mandate, as it is nearly impossible to social distance.

Von Glahn hopes faculty who are immunocompromised can continue teaching online. But with various modalities, it gets tricky.

Each campus department has an individual process for choosing which sections of a course will be in-person, hybrid, synchronous or asynchronous. Some departments have the department chair choose, some have curriculum committees, while some department chairs ask the professors how they want to teach.

According to Hargis, the final decision is an administrative one. Each faculty member has input on their modality, but final decisions are based on the curricular needs of the course and which faculty member is best suited to teach it.

Once faculty have their modality listed on BroncoDirect, it cannot be changed. If a course has a face-to-face modality, it cannot be changed to another modality because students pick classes based on how it’s taught.

“We recognize students are planning their lives based on what they’re signing up for,” explained Laura Massa, associate vice president for academic programs and accreditation liaison officer.

Cal Poly Pomona is accredited as a primarily in-person university. The campus requested an exemption during the pandemic to move most classes online while still heeding accreditation rules and legal requirement. This exemption is extended through to the courses this summer.

CPP is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission. It was through WSCUC that CPP received distance learning accreditation for all programs. As of now, CPP may still be fully online and be an accredited institution by WSCUC standards.

According to Von Glahn, the listed learning modality by the California State University system and state of California is still primarily in-person.

In upcoming semesters, the campus is setting rules about what percentage of classes can be online. The rules under consideration by the Academic Senate are 30% of classes a department offers can be online, and within that, 85% of lower-division sections need to be in person, according to Massa.

There is also a new modality CPP is experimenting with, HyFlex. According to Victoria Bhavsar, director of the Center for Advancement of Faculty Excellence, a professor teaches in-person, online and asynchronously at once. Due to its complexity, CPP is currently offering a pilot program. Nissenson was one of 31 professors experimenting with Hyflex this year and is part of the assessment of the pilot program by writing reports based on collected data from 37 HyFlex sections. The data being collected is how well the modality works with the professor and students. There isn’t enough data yet to see if the program will be permanent. Massa does know students like the flexibility HyFlex provides, so considerations may be made about the program.

Nissenson found HyFlex to be challenging, but he still wanted his students to be able to keep up with lessons if they miss a class. Nissenson has been in the practice of recording his lectures and

uploading them for students, even before the pandemic. He is continuing to do this so his students can use it as a resource for studying, not as a replacement for going to class.

CAFE worked hard to provide support for faculty as they adjusted online. Now, for adjusting back in-person, Bhavsar holds office hours for faculty every week.

“Every Cal Poly Pomona faculty I have ever met cares so much about their students and about their students genuinely succeeding,” Bhavsar said. “And faculty are human and tired and worried just like everybody else, and so I think that this mutual respect and understanding going both ways goes a really long way.”

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