Reflecting Allowed

Faces Covered, Voices Muffled: Curated Tips for Physically-Distanced & Masked Classes

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 5 seconds

My institution has announced plans to go back almost fully f2f (with maybe some dual delivery similar to low tech Hyflex), with almost all employees & students vaccinated (thanks to a straightforward government vaccination plan coupled with some intensive dates reserved in one vax site for members of our institution). I heard in the US masks will no longer be mandatory, but here, it is still masks and distancing, just to be safe. So I asked on Twitter for help.

My overall conclusions are:

  • For my own voice to be heard, projecting will be important. Perhaps a head mic can help

  • For a discussion based class, students will need to project, and this may be a bit stilted and not easy for especially shy students. I wonder if there might be a way for students to enter something like Zoom on their phone for their voice to be projected more easily through my teacher computer speakers? Have them write more?

  • Text back channel may be really important. I always used Slack for this, because I know before the pandemic that I can’t hear everyone’s contribution to every single question or point of discussion and some will be shy to speak up, so it was an equity thing… but a text back channel like Slack or a polling tool with open ended questions or word clouds gives quiet and reflective students better opportunities to participate.

  • Group and pair work will be more difficult because of distancing. Perhaps use Google docs or slides for folks to write while working together. Or let them go outdoors where it will be safer?

  • Masks on for long periods is exhausting for many – maybe take breaks half way through class, give those breaks to students to go outdoors and take masks odd and breathe? When weather is good, perhaps do more outdoor classes, or walking classes?
  • You will need to explicitly ask for emotional reactions because you cannot see mouths. This is a little bit worse than cameras off in Zoom, because with cameras off, you could still hear student voices clearly most of the time and you always know their name. Now, you can’t see their facial expressions, you probably can’t tell one student from another because you can only see their eyes, right? Maybe name tags to know names? And you can’t hear their voices clearly either, and probably won’t know their voices from each other (on Zoom w cameras off I got used to knowing their voices so I could tell who was speaking most of the time without checking the screen) m I wonder if I can ask ppl to use emojis on Slack for example every now and then. Sound exhausting to be having to read emotions so explicitly all the time. But hey, some ppl had to teach women with face coverings regularly. I did it once and I actually could tell what she was feeling. But it was just one person to everyone.

Here are some more tweets that were particularly helpful:

Face shields may be a better idea for language teaching classes so students can read lips – unsure if this will be allowed for us

It seems people learn to adjust – this from Maida Ali is a smart idea. Plan for group work when you need a break! But I think also give students breaks

Some people may experience difficulty breathing and masks getting wet, causing anxiety – apparently anticipating this helps, plus swapping masks around sounds like a great idea!

I understand that sometimes disposable masks project better and are more comfortable. For me, I wear cloth masks in winter and disposable in summer because the sweat means I have to keep changing it often. Also KN95 masks naturally stay farther from my mouth an any other type of mask so may be more comfortable for speaking

Also several comments on anti-fog solutions and also masks that don’t hurt your ears!

OK I think I have captured the bulk of the ideas I got so far! I hope others will share more in the comments here or on Twitter!

Added later:

Header image: my baby guinea pigs under a blanket. Mainly for cuteness since they are clearly not distancing or wearing masks or anything

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