Return to normal can mean a return to basics

Kipp Van Dyke fielded a question from a community college transfer student that caught him off guard. The student spent the last two years attending every class virtually and was trying to get a feel for in-person classes at Iowa State.

"His first time stepping foot into a college classroom will be as a junior at Iowa State," the director of student assistance said. "It's important that you don't assume everyone is at the same level just because they are a sophomore or junior."

Faculty and staff spent the past two years helping students deal with challenges presented by the pandemic, and as it fades there are ways to adjust to the new normal.

Van Dyke said communication between instructors and students is vital, and neither should make assumptions about the other.

"We know some students still loaded their schedules to take advantage of virtual options this year and may not know some of the routines that were previously taken for granted," he said. 

Online elements remain

With instruction, meetings and office hours often available virtually for the past few years, Van Dyke said a "hybrid state" is likely to continue, with online elements incorporated into classrooms and events.

Faculty can help students by communicating when and where they are available for office hours and if there is a virtual option. As instructors prepare courses for the summer and fall, spelling out expectations in a syllabus will help students succeed.

Things that seemed obvious before the pandemic may no longer be taken for granted for a student population that has significantly different college experiences, Van Dyke said. Some students are adjusting to basic elements of a college classroom, like taking notes and answering questions in a live lecture instead of viewing a recording.

"For faculty, it is just stating that something is an in-person event, or even reminding students what the procedure is for turning in an assignment. Some of them have only done it electronically," he said. "Through all of this, faculty and staff have proven they are nimble and able to make the necessary adjustments."

Student health

The return to classrooms also allows instructors to monitor students' well-being in a traditional environment. Instructors have some of the most impactful relationships at the university with students. This can lead to students sharing problems that may extend beyond the classroom.

Not every student with an issue will seek help, but instructors may notice student behavior that suggests a larger issue, including:

  • Significant missed class time
  • Change in mood
  • Disruptive actions
  • Other students expressing concern about a peer

Adapting to change

Van Dyke said the office of student assistance tweaked several practices during the pandemic. For example, he has resumed meeting face-to-face with students, though still recognizes the benefits of virtual meetings. Commuting students avoid significant travel to meet with him, and the ability to include a parent in discussions can be helpful.

"I will always prefer face-to-face to make that connection, but the ease of a virtual platform can be great in certain situations," he said.