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Going Back: What College Teaching Is Like Compared to Last Year

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How has teaching changed on college campuses as a new semester gets underway—in an environment where the pandemic is still not over and the Delta variant means even some with vaccines are getting breakthrough cases?

To get some answers, we decided to hone in on what the start of classes is like on one campus—Purdue University. For this week’s EdSurge Podcast, we talked with three Purdue students, one of whom stayed completely remote last year, as well as a professor who recently led the university senate.

Purdue was a place that proudly pushed to go back in person even during the height of the pandemic. Last year at this time, Purdue’s president Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana, was doing interviews on CNN talking about all the steps Purdue was taking to make the campus safe. That included buying more than a mile of plexiglass, which officials installed all over campus, including putting rolling plexiglass shields in classrooms that professors could keep between them and the students as they lectured.

This year things are very different—and crowded. And it turns out that plexiglass didn’t work out as expected.

Students and professors say there are things they’re excited about now that more teaching is in person. But going back turns out to mean giving up some flexibility that was the norm when everything was online.

If there’s one word that captures the campus experience so far this academic year, it’s limbo. “It’s not one or the other,” says Sean Murley, a senior at Purdue. “It’s not that we’re just staying home or that everything is back to normal. It’s just a weird in-between as we get out of it and as more people get vaccinated.”

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player on this page.

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