CS765 and the COVID-19 Pandemic

We will have to adapt class to the situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As I write this (August 31, 2021), things are constantly changing.

But, as of today… we are still scheduled to have in-person lectures, and we are still planning to conduct class in the usual format.

As of right now: We are still scheduled to have in-person lectures 11am-12:15pm on Mondays and Wednesdays in room 312, Wendt Commons. We are still planning to use in-class time for a mixture of lectures, class discussions, and in-class exercises. The University is discouraging instructors from making too many concessions to the reality of the pandemic.

The nature of the class makes it difficult if people miss class: a lot of the class is experiential and requires students to partipate in-person. However, if someone (student or course staff) is not feeling well, it is important to err on the side of caution and avoid the potential exposure to others. I do not know how to reconsile these two things.

We may need to make changes as we learn how well things work.

Adapting CS765 for the Pandemic

CS765 is unusual for a CS grad class. Rather than using traditional lectures, we try to have more interactive in-class exercises and discussion amongst the students. The class is scheduled for a “collaboration room” where students sit around tables to make it easier for them to discuss things.

This fall, with COVID variants still around, and they safety precautions they require, it is unclear if this prior strategy works.

For traditional lectures, I (the lecturing Professor) can find a mask-compatible microphone so I can amplify my voice enough to be heard despite the mask, and to enable streaming to students who are unable to attend in person (for health or safety reasons). In a traditional lecture hall, we can space people apart, and there is not that much interaction between students.

But, for the interactive style of class I am not sure how it will work:

  1. People working in small groups necessarily need to be close together, sharing paper (we do shared design). As groups spread apart (or have their voices muffled by masks), they tend to need to talk louder, which interferes with other groups. I would not be surprised if at least some people were uncomfortable working in such close quarters with people they don’t know well.

  2. While the audio set up allows students to hear the Professor, it doesn’t necessarily help the Professor (or other students) hear students who are discussing or questioning things.

  3. If someone is either sick, or even possibly sick (e.g., not feeling well), it is probably best if they do not come to class. However, I don’t know how to support remote learners within the classroom setup. It is difficult for me to split my attention between both types of students, and the mechanism for small group collaboration are quite different. I am not sure I can re-design the classroom exercises to work for both.

I am really looking forward to teaching in person. For me, it means I get to know the students better. And working closely around a piece of paper or white-board is better than remote - even with good digital tools. It is hard to lecture when you can’t read students' expressions to know how things are going (although, this might be challenging in person if people are wearing masks). And I know a lot of students are ready to get back in person as well.

Please bear with me as we adapt class to our new reality.

By the way, my options (as Professor) are limited. An email from the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning said:

Instructors are expected to teach course sections, including lectures, discussions and labs, in the modality indicated in the schedule of classes (as reflected in Course Search and Enroll and Faculty Center). Modality decisions and modality changes must be approved at the department and school/college level and are subject to review at the campus level. Individual instructors may not unilaterally change the modality of any course section.