STEM Faculty’s Support of Togetherness during Mandated Separation: Accommodations, Caring, Crisis Management, and Powerlessness
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The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic initiated major disruptions to higher education systems. Physical spaces that previously supported interpersonal interaction and community were abruptly inactivated, and faculty largely took on the responsibility of accommodating classroom structures in rapidly changing situations. This study employed interviews to examine how undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) instructors adapted instruction to accommodate the mandated transition to virtual learning and how these accommodations supported or hindered community and belonging during the onset of the pandemic. Interviews with 25 STEM faculty at an undergraduate Hispanic Serving Institution revealed a wide range of accommodations they made to their courses and how they managed communication with students. Faculty strived to support student belonging with responses ranging from caring to crisis management, though some faculty expressed feelings of powerlessness when unable to accommodate certain challenges. The case of a responsive and flexible instructor is presented to highlight a productive response to a crisis. These retrospective findings point to strategies to support faculty teaching in virtual learning environments in the future; increasing opportunities for student–student and student–faculty interaction, supporting faculty in learning technologies that support these interactions and addressing faculty's feelings of powerlessness.