Reflections on Pandemic Teaching and Learning, the 2021 Return to Campus

Faculty voices 

These faculty quotations are from colleagues who taught in person classes last academic year. 

Last year was not easy. Because the majority of us were not vaccinated until the spring term, there was quite a bit of trepidation in just being together at first. People were scared to be in a room together, let alone try to project their voices enough to be adequately heard. Students that normally come into class and chat casually before things start would now come into the classroom, distant themselves appropriately and kind of isolate themselves.  

This was personally challenging for me, as it felt like a lack of engagement from the students (at least with one another).  

I learned to take the extra silence/space in stride instead of letting it dampen my spirits. As much as possible, I tried to make personal connections with the students in effort to establish trust and lines of communication. I also tried to use a microphone when appropriate, and focus even more than usual on my enunciation – almost like I would with a toddler learning their first words! This is not to undermine the students’ intelligence, but to acknowledge that the mask muffles my sounds and obviously the facial expressions that facilitate meaning.  

Also, I tried to factor in some time for socializing any time I put the students in groups to work on something. Everything seems to take longer during COVID, and the students were just desperate to connect in a meaningful way with someone else

One other thing: teaching while masked is exhausting. I drink extra water/tea, and try not to schedule anything after my class so I can rest everything (my voice/mind/body)

—Sarah Ebert, School of Music and Dance

Having taught an in-person freshman seminar throughout 2020-21 and supporting many in-person PE classes, I can strongly say, “we can do this.” I was very impressed with the students following all mask, cleaning and spacing requirements in our classes. There was very little issue with having to reinforce any of these safety policies, even when students were uncomfortable while exercising and breathing hard in a mask.  

We used Canvas discussion posts (1-minute videos) for personal introductions to the instructor but also to their peers in the class, to initiate community building.  

We found many instructors had better relationships with students than they had in the past. Even though there was limited interaction with classmates, the students were thrilled to be in connection and motivated by the presence of each other by showing up and doing hard work together. While teaching in a mask, I was mindful to slow down, take pauses and make space for questions or clarification, while also having grace for my needs (to take a breath or drink water)

It might be hard (require us to do things in new ways), but we can do it (and have been doing it)!!  

—Chantelle Russell, Physical Education 

My students were really conscientious about masking and wiping down surfaces last year. It surprised me. The students who attended in-person classes (in Flex classes and studio classes) absolutely did much better mentally and academically than those who didn't. I got to see how the social factor of school really helped everyone. 
—Kiersten Muenchinger, Product Design

I tried to give my students multiple chances to express how they were doing, via discussions and anonymous surveys. I encouraged them to share with each other successful strategies they had implemented to survive this year and encouraged them to talk about their experiences. I think this allowed them to stay engaged and connected. Since I teach mostly small was pretty easy to have a few minutes of checking in for every lesson/class. 

—Arnaud Ghillebert, School of Music and Dance 


Authenticity allows us to be bold: when students are masked you do not see their smiles, yearning, shudder, yawning. While teaching in a HyFlex setting last spring, I asked myself: how can I pull everyone, in-person, and virtual students, into a focused relaxed mind? I let surprises do their job: I paused lecturing about trees in romanticism, took a deep breath myself for shifting gears, looked at students, and then invited them to stand up or sit straight, move their bodies, and take a deep breath. Then I guided them into the tree pose, Vrikshasana.

Students were a little baffled, and perhaps confused, but stretching felt good, and awarded us a refreshed presence of mind for the discussions of trees (tree motifs) in Indian epics and the Grimms' tales. I will continue searching for riddling effects that explore content through surprises that only seem like a digression. It makes teaching fun for myself, and hopefully for the students.

—Dorothee Ostmeier, German and Scandinavian


Student voices 

While I am excited about the idea of having in person classes, I am worried about the transition. The pandemic has completely changed our way of life for the past year or so, and it seems like an abrupt transition back to how things were before. I hope that guidelines are taken seriously, for the physical and mental safety of all students and faculty, and that the decisions being made have care and thought being put into them. 

—Undergraduate, freshman 

This past year, I have come to rely on recorded lectures more than anything else. Recordings kept students and professors honest about what was covered, and what wasn't. Recordings allowed for a flexibility and a reference that I've never had before with in-person classes, and proved far superior to note-taking for me personally. I found that I could just listen to a lecture and not miss anything by taking notes. I knew that I could always refer back to the recording. As a student who suffers from frequent migraines, I was always used to suffering through a migraine in order to attend lectures and labs. But with recordings, the stress of attendance entirely disappeared. As we transition back to in-person, with the health of our communities hopefully still within focus, I hope that the UO strongly considers continuation of the practice of recording labs, discussions and lectures.  

—Undergraduate, junior 

I am concerned that the educational ‘experience’ will be just as it was in 2019... awful. Instructors who do not use Canvas add more stress to students because it is another class to keep track of. 

—Undergraduate, senior 

I’m concerned that full lecture halls or classrooms will be much more noise and activity than we've been used to for a long time, and people are so close... 

—Undergraduate, senior 

I am most excited for being able to connect with other students and faculty on a deeper level. 

—Undergraduate, freshman 

I am genuinely scared not only about health and safety, but of the backlash that we're sure to get for trying to keep each other safe and taking that seriously. People are nasty to those who advocate for mask-wearing, distancing, and general good hygiene. I have enough to worry about as a nonwhite woman walking down the street. I don't need this also. 


Our life before the pandemic is not something I think we should strive to recreate in its entirety!! Parts of it were great, but we also learned a whole lot during the past 14 months. We should learn how to integrate those two worlds and build a better one. I don't want to go back to only have in-person classes with no other options. Just as there are many reasons people thrive with in-person classes, there are a multitude of reasons and situations that mean someone might do better in a virtual format! I think the Hy-Flex classes are a perfect example of what I hope we can do more of in the future.  

—Undergraduate, junior