Over the last year, COVID-19 changed education, bringing hybrid schedules and remote learning into families’ lives. And through it all, teachers and faculty from all education levels have led the way. Allison BrckaLorenz, an IU research scientist who studies faculty teaching behaviors in colleges, is researching faculty motivations for teaching and how to improve their teaching environments. BrckaLorenz says there are many inequities and discrimination built into systems and structures of higher education that prevent or demotivate faculty to do their best teaching work. Her research shows that positive motivations for teaching are strongly connected to quality teaching practices. BrckaLorenz hopes to improve the quality of teaching and learning through her project, College + University Teaching Environments, or CUTE. The project helps institutions gather information about their faculty’s teaching climates to help them find actionable ways to improve faculty teaching environments, identify groups of faculty who experience more supportive environments for teaching, and for institutions to be able to pay attention to traditionally marginalized groups of faculty who may be experiencing inequitable treatment. As part of the project, BrckaLorenz will survey faculty or other instructional staff on five aspects of their work that contribute to a positive and motivational teaching environment, including their perceptions of climate for support of diversity, teaching processes and policies, teaching values and support of people they work with, access to teaching resources, and feelings of respect, belonging, stress and motivation. BrckaLorenz says the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many equity issues in higher education, so she launched an abbreviated version of CUTE to specifically look at issues related to teaching environments at the onset of the pandemic. According to her research, BrckaLorenz says in general, faculty mostly felt supported by their institutions, but it was their teaching responsibilities that stressed them out the most. She says their mental health, sleeping patterns and relationships with others suffered as a result. BrckaLorenz hopes CUTE helps institutions assist their faculty in ways they may not have thought of before, helping faculty do their best work but also supporting them as human beings.
In other news, many of our discussions since March 2020 have centered on COVID-19 vaccines. But as the pandemic raged, it interrupted the delivery of key health services for children and adolescents, and administration of other routine vaccinations has slowed. Gregory Zimet, a behavioral scientist and professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine, says the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccines have been hit especially hard. He says parents have been reluctant to bring their kids to health clinics and doctors’ offices for immunizations during the pandemic, and many adolescents have fallen behind with their routinely recommended vaccines, especially HPV, which infects nearly 80% of Americans at some point during their lives. Although most HPV infections do not go on to cause health problems, some infections persist and can cause six types of cancers. Of the 80 million Americans who are infected with HPV, nearly 36,000 will be diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer this year. While HPV vaccination rates lagged behind other routinely recommended vaccines and other countries’ HPV vaccination rates even before the pandemic, rates of HPV vaccination have declined even more. Zimet says the pandemic has also exacerbated health disparities, leaving Black, Indigenous and other people of color; those in rural areas; and sexual minority adolescents at higher risk for missed doses of the HPV vaccine. Zimet says now is the time for the nation to get back on track with adolescent vaccination in order to protect our youth and communities. HPV vaccination is about cancer prevention, he says. By catching up on missed doses of HPV now, we can protect adolescents from serious diseases, including cervical and head and neck cancers, he says.