COVID-19 Pandemic - Plans for Remote Learning

We’re once again facing a semester dramatically altered by our public health situation, though with both more risk (in the form of mutations to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19) and more hope (in the form of vaccines). Like last semester, this means we are starting another semester with what feel like novel questions. Will social distancing requirements be relaxed at any point before May? When will we be able to get vaccinated? What happens if we get sick before we can get a shot? If this is your first semester at SLU, you probably have even more questions about starting at a new institution in the middle of a pandemic.

I’ve been reflecting this summer about how novel this all still feels even though we are nearly ten months into this odyssey. I suspect, though, that the Billikens who arrived on campus in the fall of 1918 had similar questions. SLU turned 100 years old that year, and despite the pandemic, we’re still around, having just celebrated the completion of our bicentennial. I share this to say - we’ll get through this, just like the classes of 1919, 1920, 1921, and 1922 did.

My goal for this page is to clarify, at least for the context of my SOC 1120 sections, what this course will be like this semester as we navigate our “new normal.” I hope doing so reduces some of the ambiguity and stress related to this class and your fall semesters.

Focusing on What Matters

First, though, I think it is important to acknowledge the current situation we are all collectively facing outside of coursework. I assume that all of us are worried about lots of other things, too. You may be wondering if we’ll have to leave campus at some point this semester, or if you or your friends or your family will get sick. Millions of Americans, including perhaps you or some of your family members, are struggling financially because of the economic consequences of this virus. Perhaps you are worried about what will happen to them if you are focused on classes? Or how you will focus on classes while also helping them?

In March, our lives were dramatically disrupted almost overnight. My wife and I had to worry about what would happen to our daughter if we both got sick. Or if we would see our family, who all live far from Missouri, ever again. Fortunately we did not get sick last spring, and we got to see our families this past summer and fall. Now, however, we have new concerns, like being back in St. Louis away from our families again, and what 2021 will bring with new variants of COVID and vaccination. We should be honest with ourselves - this is an incredibly significant, stressful, and life-altering event we are all collectively experiencing.

All of this takes precedence over a semester’s worth of college or graduate school classes. I want to make clear that we should not and cannot continue with coursework as if things are “normal.” We can’t ignore the fact that we are living in a moment of uncertainty and crisis. This means we have to be kind to ourselves and each other. It also means all of us, but especially faculty, need drastically re-calibrate our expectations for what we will learn and achieve in courses this semester. This is important because (1) it’s just true (2) our mental health will suffer if we don’t acknowledge this and try to go on as if everything is normal.

Practice Self Care

The first thing all of you should do is think about what you need to do for yourselves this semester. I exercise a lot - mostly running outdoors when it is nice and cycling indoors when the weather isn’t great. I meditate. I have a set daily schedule that I follow even though I’m home. I try to make time to read for pleasure. And I write (ok, vent!) about what is going on each day.

Some of this may be useful to you, and some of it might not be. You need to find what works for you. The fourth part of the Return to Campus Module provides some suggestions for getting encouragement and support. Please return to that for advice, or feel free to talk to me about strategies you can use.

What Class Will Be Like

Both of my classes will meet “synchronously.” This means we have an assigned meeting time, and we’ll gather twice a week. Instead of meeting in Morrissey Hall, though, we’ll be meeting virtually using a tool called Zoom. Zoom will allow us to get exposed to course content, meet in small groups, and ask questions. It isn’t the same, of course, but I am going to do my best to make sure you get as much of the course experience that you would ordinarily receive as I can give you.

My decision to teach synchronously was made after reflecting on last spring, taking a class on online teaching, and then teaching synchronously this Fall. My Spring semester students overwhelmingly suggested to me that I teach synchronously, and I take feedback from students seriously.

Details about assignments and readings are available in the syllabus, but I wanted to give you all a quick high-level preview of two “novel” aspects of the course. First, I’ll be utilizing a “flipped” course design, where the lecture portions of the course will happen in-part via videos that you need to watch before you come to class. This will allow us to dedicate our virtual class time to discussing cartography, practicing skills together, and then practicing skills separately. This will also give me time to meet with students individually each week.

Second, I’m using a project based learning approach to the course. While there are set lab exercises that you will all complete, the homework assignments revolve completely around your final project. I normally give students wide latitude for final project topics. This semester, because we will be entirely remote, I am changing that approach. I am going to strongly encourage you to use one of the two pre-made data sets I will make available. If you feel very strongly about doing something different, and feel like you can take on the extra responsibility for learning a bit more independently, I will have a petition process for choosing a different final project topic.

Given the structure of our class meetings, and the independent nature of the homework assignments, being present in class is critical. I therefore expect that you will come to class. The syllabus contains all the details, but you can boil the attendance policy down to this: attending class is important, and I will be keeping track of who comes so I can identify students who might need some additional support. If you can’t attend classes occasionally, no worries. Recordings will be made available via Blackboard. That said, there are interactive parts of class that you need to be present for, so please attend as much as you possibly can. For undergraduate students in SOC 4650, remember that missing one class is like missing an entire week’s worth of classes for a “normal” undergraduate class.

What Happens If I Get Sick?

If you become unwell, or find yourself taking care of your family or friends, please let me know as soon as possible! I will not ask for documentation, since if you’re sick but not very sick, the last thing most you will want to do is go to a doctor just to get a note. I am proceeding with a spirit of trust in all of you, and ask you reciprocate that with me. If you need to modify assignment due dates, please let me know prior to those deadlines.

What Office Hours Will Be Like

My office hours are for you! I don’t plan to do other things during this period except chat with students. Please feel free to stop by as often as you would like. It’s going to be a little intimidating, of course, dropping in to meet someone virtually who you’ve never met in person. But please take the step and come to office hours. Getting to know you all is one of the best parts of my job, and office hours is one of the best ways to do that.

Just like class, office hours will occur over Zoom as well. There will be two periods:

  1. 9am-10am (by appointment only)
  2. 10am-10:45am (open)

For the appointment only period, you will be able to sign-up for 15 or 30 minute meetings with me via a service called Calendly. Once you sign-up for a slot, you’ll get an invitation that includes Zoom meeting information. For the open, drop-in period, you’ll be able to come to a dedicated Zoom meeting that has a “waiting room.” I’ll bring one student in from the waiting room as a time so that we can meet privately.


This is my plan as of January 25th, 2021. I may modify it further as we progress through the the semester. If I become sick or a member of my family becomes ill, modifications will likely be required. I will do my best to keep everyone updated in a timely fashion. Please check your email and Blackboard regularly. I appreciate everyone’s willingness to roll with the many punches we are all facing right now. Remember, we are in this together.


Special thanks to Dr. Amy Cooper for sharing her language and policies around COVID-19 modifications, which inspired the original version of this page published in Spring 2020.