Reflections on Returning to Campus from Associate Dean Ted Wright

The beginning of fall quarter 2021 marked UCI’s return to in-person operations following four quarters of remote instruction. The CHC’s enthusiastic students entered a campus that was reanimated as they attended Welcome Week activities, took their first classes of the quarter, and filled Ring Road during passing periods. While these and other aspects of student life have remained the same as pre-pandemic, other aspects of being a UCI student have changed, particularly thanks to new approaches to teaching and student engagement found to be useful during the remote situation. Taking classes and being involved as a student has become more of a hybrid experience, where in-person instruction and engagement are coupled with the use of videoconferencing and other online tools.  

We asked Ted Wright, Associate Dean for Campuswide Honors, about what he has experienced in returning to the classroom as well as interacting with CHC students at fall CHC orientation, Coffee Hour (which has been held outdoors), and other events during fall quarter.  

What CHC courses are you currently teaching, and are they in-person or hybrid?
This quarter I am teaching two courses: a larger course that is the fourth quarter in CHC’s Sustainable Societies track (Social Perspectives on the Sustainability of Societies), and a seminar, in which I work with a small group of CHC students who are beginning to formulate their theses. The Social Perspectives course is fully in-person. Because it was more convenient, most of the meetings of the thesis seminar were held over Zoom, although we did have one in-person meeting.

What was it like to return to campus in the fall as an instructor?
As an instructor, I have been thrilled to be back on campus. I try to make my teaching interactive, and I find that this is difficult with more than five or six people on Zoom. It is truly heartening that, in a community in which over 95% of the members are vaccinated and reasonable precautions are being followed, COVID is mostly a nuisance, not a threat or a scourge. 

Are there things you learned from instructing remotely that you are now using in the classroom? 
Although I still believe in-person instruction can create more student engagement and thus better mastery of many kinds of material, teaching remotely was not as ineffective as I had feared – and for some things it is better. Teaching remotely also forced me and many of my colleagues to use and become proficient with online tools (I had never heard of Zoom two years ago) that will continue to be useful in the future.

How have CHC students responded to being back on campus, in your estimation? 
Students have been excited to be back together and taking classes in-person; the year of remote instruction seems to have helped them appreciate the advantages of being on campus. Even more importantly, the CHC community is so much more vibrant in person; certainly, attendance at events has been great.

Has there been a particular event or opportunity to interact with CHC students this fall that has really stood out for you?
At the start of the quarter, the CHC had events for the first-year students and also the sophomores, most of whom, although they were in their second year, have never been on campus! It is always exciting to meet new students for the first time, but this year these events seemed more important than ever!