WASHINGTON, PA (April 16, 2020) – As she did at the beginning of every semester, English Professor Linda Troost, Ph.D. photographed her students in their seats this past January to help her match names to faces in her small class. She didn’t know then that the resulting photograph itself would, in a way, become her audience.
So it goes for the teaching life amidst the Covid-19 pandemic as colleges and universities across the country adjust to a new normal outside the traditional classroom. These days, Troost, who has been teaching at Washington & Jefferson College in for 35 years, now records a weekly series of short class lectures—like podcasts, she says—from her living room, alone. In front of her: a computer screen, notes, and the picture of her students.
“It gives me a sense of who my audience is,” said Troost of her now-cherished 8 and a half-inch by 11-inch reminder of whom she is educating. Asked if she realized when she took the photo how important it would become during these self-quarantined circumstances, she was quick to reply, “Oh, my gosh, no.”
Having that virtual audience in front of her, Troost said, also helps her to remember to keep her lectures compelling in front of the camera. That can prove challenging in her higher-level Survey of British Literature, and History of Literary Theory and Criticism courses, which include her recorded lectures, reading and blogging assignments, e-mail discussion chains, and regular quizzes.
“I’ve always thought of teaching as sort of stand-up comedy,” she says. “My father, a Lutheran minister, always said that, to educate and inform, you have to think about how to move people. So I work more these days on trying to do that.”
No stranger to advanced computer technology, Troost nonetheless said her secret to success so far has been to keep things simple for her students. That’s why she has managed her class from a single digital platform, Sakai Learning Management System, widely used across campus.
“I keep the platform simple, and I do everything in small units,” she said. “It’s very easy to adapt to my course. I understand how fragile Internet connections can be and what it’s like to not have a good connection.”
And the photograph of her students, she said, just makes that connection better.
This article is part of Thriving Together, a series of articles and videos showcasing the ways in which W&J community members are here for each other during this unprecedented time. Read other articles in the series in the W&J News Section.
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.