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COVID-19 restrictions: hurdles, changes, and blessings

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world has been immeasurable. It has fundamentally changed the way we go about our daily lives and interact with each other.

The day-to-day interactions we’ve previously taken for granted have now become venues for fear and anxiety and now now take place behind barriers and restrictions for the sake of public health.

While the College has worked to enforce safety standards and regulations to return to normalcy, there is  no doubt that students still feel the effects of the pandemic no matter how safely they conduct themselves or how strict the College’s policies are.

In an interview with The Colby Echo, a number of professors weighed in on how the pandemic has affected their departments, their teaching, and their classes.

For Associate Professor of Chemistry Rebecca Conry, the pandemic has radically changed the way she teaches her highly lab-focused courses, most of which call for hands-on participation.

“I think the hardest part when we first went remote was in terms of lab work, as chemistry is very lab-based,” Conry said. “You learn how to manipulate things, work with instrumentation, and collect and analyze data in the lab, and it’s very hard to do this at home when you don’t have the equipment. We got around this a bit by using online simulations and pre-made data, but it still didn’t come close to actually being in the lab.”

She also noticed that some of her students didn’t have reliable internet access, meaning that “their academic success was directly dependent on their social standing,” she said.

Some of Conry’s students were unable to keep up with her class due to the stresses of the pandemic itself. She also found that some students resorted to “cutting corners and taking shortcuts.”

“Moreover, some of my students were outright unable to access my course material, like my Chinese international students who couldn’t even use Google because their country’s government blocked them from using it,” Conry continued. “We had to work out solutions with our IT department and find ways to bypass their country’s firewalls to make sure that they were getting the most out of my class.”

Conry also noted that her research had been replaced by pressing academic integrity work.

“I used to do research, but because of the pandemic, my new position in managing academic integrity and the rise in the cases of academic dishonesty, and my obligations at home, I had to give up doing research, no matter how much I wanted to continue,” she said.

Many pre-pandemic ways simply won’t function without a radical degree of rethinking and adjustment as well as a clear awareness of how remedial actions might exacerbate existing problems. Even when rules are enforced, certain feats are still difficult to accomplish.

Despite the jarring transition towards a different mode of teaching and the new restrictions, the abrupt changes have brought some positive and much-needed adjustments to professors’ approaches towards education.

“The pandemic has changed the culture of our department in a number of ways, with our masks being probably one of the most obvious examples of this, among other things,” Economics Department Chair Michael Donihue said.

“Even in one-on-one meetings, we have to be extremely conscious of our airflow and safety. Also, simple things like meetings and schedules have become difficult to follow through and carry out due to certain restrictions and concerns for safety,” Donihue said. “On a positive note, however, the pandemic has allowed us to interact in ways we never thought to be possible before.”

Donihue explained that Zoom has actually made it easier to contact people at other institutions, creating opportunities that might not exist otherwise. Pandemic restrictions also forced him and his peers to rethink their classroom models, leading to more efficient practices in many cases.

“Furthermore, to minimize the risk of infection and transmission, we’ve broken up the class into smaller study groups while also focusing more on problem-solving instead of lecturing during in-class instruction, which has been pedagogically proven to be a deeper and more efficient learning experience,” Donihue said.

Some professors see the changes that the COVID-19 forces not just as necessary actions to take, but as blessings too.

“Even though I was originally forced to use Zoom and other pieces of technology during the start of the pandemic, I discovered that these tools are surprisingly good for me and my students,” Associate Professor of East Asian Studies Hong Zhang said.

Zhang found it much easier to switch all submission and grading from a paper to a digital medium. Additionally, she is now able to pre-record her lectures and post them online, enabling her students to be more prepared for class.

“I found that by integrating the skills we’ve learned at the peak of the pandemic and the technologies we’ve picked up along the way into my instruction now that we’re all back, I was able to truly enhance my teaching and make the most out of my time both in and out of the classroom,” Zhang said. “I don’t think I would have been able to do this without learning what I did during the pandemic.

“Because of this, I believe that one of the most important skills to have during a time like this is the ability to rapidly adapt and take advantage of different opportunities and developments to do your best under disadvantageous conditions, as sometimes, it’s the best that we can do,” Zhang added. “It’s been easier and easier for us to do this too, as the makers of these technologies realize the conditions we’re in and rapidly make changes to maximize the efficiency of their products.”

On the road towards recovery and excellence, it is important to adapt to overcome obstacles, be prepared to address issues that may stand in the way, and most importantly, to keep a positive outlook.

~ Dimitri Lin ‘25

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