Lucas Center Blog

Exposing the Invisible: Teaching about Coronavirus

March 31, 2020  / Bill Reynolds, PhD  / Tags: teaching, higher ed, coronavirus, biology, psychology, learning, covid, philosophy, sociology

Two questions: 1) How are you teaching about the coronavirus pandemic? If you’re not: 2) Could you be teaching about coronavirus? In conversations Lucas Center staff have had with students and faculty over the last couple of weeks we’ve been asking how faculty are incorporating the evolving pandemic into their teaching. Overall, students and faculty alike report that even as the coronavirus pandemic has completely disrupted the flow and nature of teaching and learning in their classrooms, not to mention the innumerable ways it has impacted lives beyond academe, it has had little impact on content--that is, what people are actually teaching and discussing in their classes (disclaimer: small sample, anecdotal evidence).

Given the obvious ways the pandemic is impacting lives, and our certainty that it is also disrupting people in countless less evident ways, we thought we would pick some low-hanging disciplinary fruit and share a selection of articles related to how folks are or might think about connecting the coronavirus to their course content. 

Kim Mix, a professor of biological sciences is teaching about corona virus in real time (Mix, 3/27/20, Inside Higher Ed). Key passages:

  • “The challenge of teaching an outbreak in real time is sifting through mountains of information to uncover the teachable gems.” And,
  • “Sensing the urgency of teaching in this moment, I loosened my grip on the syllabus and created classroom space for deconstructing the diagnostic tests.” And,
  • “As we venture into this journey of remote learning together, I have allowed my syllabus to slip from the vintage enamel-top table in my home office. Embracing the experimental nature of teaching and learning in this moment is the way through it. Inviting our students to roll up their sleeves with us to marvel at crown-shaped proteins, scrutinize the sequences of viral genomes and comb through data from emerging clinical trials is what we must do.”

Note her flexibility and willingness to adapt her teaching to what is meaningful in this moment.

Given the emotional and psychological impact of the coronavirus, classes in the mental health disciplines and psychology seem ripe for an embrace of the “experimental nature of teaching and learning,” as Mix noted above. For a small selection of articles that are relevant to these disciplines, see below.

  • Fear and risk perception (from the APA Monitor) are two topics that are highly relevant and can be seen in some of the panic-like behavior we commented on in previous blog posts.
  • One can find an example of the impact of fear and panic on behavior in the following: “…I’ve heard stories of friends and friends of friends making their own frantic grocery trips, walking in the door of Wegman’s or C-Town knowing intellectually that this kind of bunker mentality is unwarranted, it’s silly, it’s probably counterproductive—but coming home nevertheless with stacks of SpaghettiOs and canned green beans, or filling their freezers with Lean Cuisines. ‘I jokingly call it calamity capitalism,’ David Sanders, the owner of Doomsday Prep, a company that sells survival supplies and gear, told Slate, about this deeply human drive to soothe uncertainty by buying and buying and buying. There is, of course, a German word for it: Hamsterkäufe, meaning to shop like a nervous, bulging-cheeked hamster.” (New Yorker, March 5)
  • (If you want a good laugh, visit Twitter and search #Hamsterkaeufe.)
  • Surprise! Some people buy guns.
  • And some people step up.

A 2013 issue of the journal Sociology of Health and Illness (Volume 35, Number 2) asks the question “Why a sociology of pandemics?” (Available in full text through the FGCU Library databases.) A couple of article titles that popped for me were:

  • “Global health risks and cosmopolitisation: from emergence to interference.”
  • “The politics of securing borders and the identities of disease.”
  • “'If you have a soul, you will volunteer at once': gendered expectations of duty to care during pandemics.”

These were my favorites, but there are 15 articles in this issue, so I’m sure you’ll find one that is relevant to your course if you teach in the social sciences.

Volumes have been written on the history of pandemics and contagion. A quick search yielded some accessible accounts of pandemics and history.

People often seek spiritual solace during times of major disruption and uncertainty, so religious studies likely have much to offer in these times. See, for example, “The Gospel in a Time of Social Distancing.”

And, of course, the philosophers:

If you’ve found ways to teach about the global coronavirus pandemic in the context of your course we’d love to feature your work on the Lucas Center blog. Contact us at or to tell us how the pandemic is affecting teaching and learning in your classes.