For those of us who are fortunate enough to have been vaccinated, the COVID-19 pandemic is slowly starting to feel over. After receiving my second shot on Saturday, May 15, I felt awash with relief and a sense of finality that I had not felt in quite some time. There are still reminders of the pandemic in daily life—mask wearing indoors, and additional restrictions at Concord Academy—but the overwhelming feeling I have gotten over the past few weeks has been that things are getting better. As this pandemic is rapidly ending, the end of another CA year is also coming to a close. CA feels like CA again, with swathes of people in the MSL and the energy returning to classes.
Although this return to normalcy can be felt at CA, the pandemic has changed it in ways that students will feel for years to come. I spoke with Max Hall, legendary CA physics teacher, to ask him about how COVID-19 has forced him to change in the short term, and how he expects it will change the way we learn in the long-term. This is obviously a sensitive topic, especially for students who were happy with the way CA was before. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to hear Hall’s takes on what we might expect to see in the coming months and years.
One thing that Hall kept mentioning was that the pandemic has forced teachers to reckon with how to gauge understanding, which was something he had been working on for a couple of years, mainly through his Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAD CAM) class. Speaking of the first year he taught the class, he said, “instead of having assessments, there was just a checklist of things that you had either done or hadn’t done, the idea being that if you had done them you had achieved some level of competence that was sufficient by my reckoning at that point in time.”
Another challenge Hall mentioned was that teachers were forced to boil down courses to the essentials: what students needed to know in order to have an understanding of a topic. This proved a major challenge at the start of the pandemic, when classes went from in-person three times a week to remote once a week. Often, this meant making hard decisions about what was worth keeping and what wasn’t, and ultimately cutting some content.
All in all, Hall is optimistic about the future of learning after the pandemic, and thinks that he—and the world of academia as a whole—has learned from it. Ultimately, he was challenged to think about other ways to engage students and other ways to assess understanding. This shaking up will lead to a world where teachers are more often assessing what understanding a subject means. Speaking of this change, he said, “The shake up is a good thing.”