Generation Gap

People over 50 (often with serious health conditions) are all eager to teach in person. The healthy 30 to 50 cohort is almost invariably too terrified. Next semester is going to be all gray-haired professors teaching on campus and all the young faculty uploading PowerPoints from home.

I also found that nobody under the age of 50 has any interest in what will happen to our enrollments if we move 75% of teaching online or whether the students want this. For some weird reason, the only professors who ask “but is this what the students want? Has anybody asked the students?” are over the age of 70.

I have been asking students. It’s obviously all anecdotal but 100% of the students I asked are desperate to come back to campus. They all start with, “no offense, profe, and I really liked your course*, but online learning sucks.” They are getting into debt for this education. Shouldn’t somebody at least ask them? We are going 100% on what professors choose but how fair is it to ask the young people to pay for your neuroses?

And before you mention that many professors are older and are at risk, it’s the older ones I can’t keep off campus!

* They are being polite. My teaching sucked something fierce. The worst teaching I’ve ever done.

15 thoughts on “Generation Gap”

  1. “I really liked your course”

    I apologized for the suckiness of the stuff I did remotely (I kept hoping until the last that physical classes would resume….). I did get a few “well the notes were interesting and I learned a lot from them” or “but I’ve always enjoyed your other classes”….

    As to the age discrepancy, maybe part of it is collateral damage of fluidity… older faculty have more of a sense of security (because they’ve experienced it more) and younger faculty have reached and passed how much insecurity they can deal with and are shutting down: “Now they want to risk my goddamned life so I can get stuck with hundreds of thousands of medical bills when I don’t have tenure and I still haven’t even paid off my motherfucking student debt….. Hella NO!!!!!”


  2. At first, I was eager to return to f2f. And, as I shared before, faculty at my institution are being given no choice at all: we must teach f2f. But we must do it following strict socially distancing protocols and in masks. It’s not going to work and I am now absolutely dreading the Fall.

    We are doing this almost exclusively because that’s what students want and we don’t want to lose the tuition dollars. I think though, that the students just haven’t thought through how terrible it’s going to be. Nobody is going to be able to hear each other (because of the masks); everyone has to sit six feet apart at all times so any small group or partner work is out; I am going to have to wear a microphone and have a camera on me at all times; I can’t meet students in my office. We can’t even drink during class– so water or coffee is out. It’s going to be terrible. And my administration isn’t taking any direction from faculty at all when we explain that this isn’t going to work. The students are going to hate it. I am sure of it.

    I am not afraid of getting sick and I would be ready to go back to regular, non socially distanced classes. But since that’s not an option at all, I have joined the “let me teach online” crowd. At this point, the only people who want to teach f2f are those who lecture 100% and show unimaginative powerpoints.. I think I can teach a decent online class (I am pretty proud of my teaching from last Spring) but I can’t deal with this abomination of f2f teaching that is being forced upon us.


    1. Oh and because we can’t fit all our students for any given class in one room because of COVID distancing restrictions, we have these ridiculously complicated systems by which students will come to class. It’s utterly bananas. Nobody is going to be able to keep track of where they are supposed to be and when.


    2. “…the only people who want to teach f2f are those who lecture 100% and show unimaginative powerpoints.. ”

      Please don’t generalize. Just because you can’t envision a good lecture, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

      I kick ass at lecturing (as evidenced by every metric of student success and satisfaction, and a bunch of teaching awards) and never use PowerPoints; everything is written, drawn, and derived right on the spot. It’s like watching a live comedy show, only with way stupider jokes and way more math.

      I have always loved the lecture with a board because it’s extremely bare-bones and, as such, infinitely adaptable. I don’t have to commit to any materials forever; PowerPoints always made me fall asleep as a student, and I refuse to inflict them upon others. When I lecture on the board, I can quickly adapt to what the class needs: I can go on tangents, I can go faster or slower, I can answer questions in as much detail as needed; basically I can craft a lecture my students need on the spot.

      Also, I have to say, I abhor this insistence on doing everything with other people (“small group work”). I think in STEM is actually full of people like me who want to be left the fuck alone and do not need the support of the group to learn stuff. As a student, I always wanted to go to the lecture, take notes, and then study on my own. I didn’t need other people to help me study or understand the material, and, if I am being honest, I think this insistence on togetherness is wasting people’s time and hindering learning. There is no learning without making sense in your own head; there will always be some resistance and difficulty in mastering new material, and having friends around makes it more fun, but will NOT remove the inherent struggle of learning. I have seen it time and again that there’s a leader in each study group, a person who gets things quickly and does well on their own, and a bunch of followers who actually do quite poorly on their own when they cannot leech off the only person who has a clue. Learning new things is between the individual and their own brain. The sooner a student realizes there are no shortcuts to acquiring learning with their own sweat and tears, the sooner they will stop wasting time and approach studying efficiently.


      1. I’m a great lecturer too. Truly. Students love my lectures. And some lecturing is always necessary. But a good Humanities course is fundamentally based in discussion and exploration and in helping students develop and defend their own interpretations and arguments based on text(s). Small groups are indispensable tools in this process because everyone has a chance to speak–especially quieter students or students who just need a bit more time to percolate. Any Humanities class that is 100% lecture every day isn’t going to be a good class. (And students sometimes like lecture-based courses because sitting as as a passive audience member requires less preparation and work than being an active discussion participant.) STEM classes don’t need as much interaction and need more direct instruction.

        In any case, the sort of lecturing you describe–nimble, responsive, creative etc.– wouldn’t work well if everyone is in a mask, sitting six to ten feet apart while you make sure that you and your board can adequately seen on camera at all times. The f2f model I’m describing resists anything resembling good teaching. And the faculty who are eager to participate in this model are all powerpoint/lecture all the time.


        1. It does sound atrocious. I’m so sorry you are forced into this model.

          On my end, I discovered that the CDC approved face shields for teaching. The administration seems amenable to letting me get them for myself and the students. I even get to choose the color scheme. At least, we are getting rid of the masks which is important for language teaching.


  3. I love in-class teaching. However, it would be very easy to me (in mathematics/economics) to create a great online course, at this condition: EXAMS MUST BE IN CLASS, not online.

    Online exams sucks bad.


  4. I have been asking students. It’s obviously all anecdotal but 100% of the students I asked are desperate to come back to campus. They all start with, “no offense, profe, and I really liked your course*, but online learning sucks.” They are getting into debt for this education. Shouldn’t somebody at least ask them? We are going 100% on what professors choose but how fair is it to ask the young people to pay for your neuroses?

    I know you don’t have very many international students and your department doesn’t have a lot of international students in your major, so all of the international students leaving shouldn’t have too much of an effect.
    My alma mater, OTOH, will be freaking out.

    New guidance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) promises to make life difficult for the one million international students pursing higher education in the United States. The guidance will prohibit foreign students from entering the country if they attend universities that have decided to hold all classes online for the fall semester, while those attending schools that maintain some in-person classes will face serious uncertainty…
    The guidance states that international students on an F-1 (academic) or M-1 (vocational) visa may not remain in the United States if their schools are entirely online. Foreign students who have already gone home may not reenter the United States, while those still in the country will be forced to leave unless they transfer to a school with in-person instruction.

    ICE will allow F-1 students to remain in the country if they attend a school using a “hybrid” model in which some courses are online and some are in-person. (M-1 students are not eligible for this exemption.) However, students attending such institutions may not take an entirely online course of study if they wish to remain in the United States. Additionally, if a resurgence of Covid-19 cases forces schools to switch from a hybrid model back to all-online instruction, their foreign students will have to leave the country abruptly in the middle of the semester…


    1. This is a shameful act on the part of the Trump administration. I’m not sure what it accomplishes to boot all foreign exchange students (many/most of who are paying top dollar for their educations) out of the country.


      1. I was an international student. And I honestly don’t understand why students need to hang around in the country when they don’t have to be in class. I would have stampeded away home in their place.

        What it accomplishes is pushing universities like Harvard into starting to offer real education. You can’t have it both ways. You are either an online school, and then you don’t get to bring any international students or you are a real college. But you can’t be both.

        This will help schools like mine to get international students. Online diploma mills lose, we win.


        1. You aren’t going to get many international students because none of them can get visas right now. My department has teaching exchanges with partner universities in several countries. So far none of the TAs coming from Germany or France has been able to get a visa. I heard that there are also problems with visas coming various Latin American countries and China. According to the admin person who deals with this, the only place where the US seems to be giving out student visas in a normal manner is Mexico.


          1. I should add that we are all panicking about fall courses because the exchange TAs aren’t coming and we have a freeze on hiring adjuncts and visitors.


              1. We are currently planning for in person courses, but it wouldn’t matter if we were all online. We can’t pay them until they get their visas, get here, do the international student orientation, and get the paperwork from the International Student office. taken care of. Even if we wind up doing 100% online, we can’t hire them without the visa and international student paperwork.


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