A few years back, I wrote a self-care post: “Physical, Mental, and Emotional Taxation in the Classroom.” It was responding to the standard wear and tear involved in the field of teaching. Now, with the current COVID-19 stress of remote teaching, many are feeling an additional strain of trying to teach through entirely different platforms in a complicated environment that no one signed up for at the start of the term.
I am already teaching fully online this semester, so my experience has been different. I haven’t had the strain of reconfiguring my entire semester. I don’t have some magical key for teaching online other than to say designing actual online courses takes more than a few days or a week. I support all the good faith efforts of faculty to try and embrace technology to complete the rest of the semester in whatever way you see fit.
I also work at colleges with very supportive environments. This past week one of my colleges hosted a virtual townhall for students via the webinar feature through Zoom and hit the maximum 10,000 online attendees. Students are looking for support and college administration, faculty, and staff are trying to make the best of a difficult situation. On the other hand, hearing of faculty elsewhere who have decided they need to add more to the virtual classes in the name of rigor or watching students being kicked out of their dorms with little notice or resources has been disheartening to say the least.
The purpose of this post is to continue my previous self-care advocacy, in terms of ourselves and respecting our students’ self-care as well, during this very precarious time. I have also mined some support resources for transitioning to various forms of virtual learning for the remainder of the semester from a Facebook Group I was invited to a week ago, aptly named Pandemic Pedagogy. We should remember that it is not business as usual, and we shouldn’t act like it is.
Of course there is the levity of McSweeney’s “Welcome to Your Hastily Prepared Online College Course,” which per usual hits way too close home; or Professor Michael Brueuning’s rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s classic with “‘I Will Survive’ Teaching Online.”
For those fellow coffee shop workers, there is a Youtube video to help the ambiance of your current workspace.
On a more serious note, we need to have a little bit of grace with our own self-expectations. Many of us might need to take a moment to really embrace the fact that this is not a sabbatical and staying home isn’t creating some super productive or idyllic situation for most, so “Please Don’t Be Guilted Into Being More Productive During The Coronavirus.”
There are other ideas that have been shared, like departments creating support groups of 5 or so faculty members who check in with one another weekly via Zoom once a week. We aren’t in this alone, and as many of us know, teaching is isolating enough without being confined to our homes.
We also need to remember the state of the US education system going into this pandemic. Who makes up the majority of the teaching workforce at colleges? Contingent faculty face many additional challenges. If prepping to switch 2 or 3 or 4 classes to the online space is daunting and exhausting, imagine you are teaching 6 or 8 classes, living at the poverty level, and are not seeing any extra compensation for all the additional work. So let’s consider how “The Move to Online College is Hitting Adjunct Professors the Hardest” and adjust our expectations accordingly.
We don’t know how long we are going to be in this situation, so let’s support one another but also respect how much support we actually have to give. We can’t support everyone in our lives and need to be able to say, “I don’t have anything left to give you today.”
It’s important to recognize that the challenge for students extends far beyond just navigating our courses in a new format with which they may not be comfortable. Although, this is something of which we do need to be cognizant.
For nearly all of my own undergrad and graduate education, I did not have the internet at home. It wasn’t that it didn’t exist—I’m a millennial—it’s that I didn’t have the money for it. I would not have been able to easily transition to online remote learning or teaching at those points in my life. I also lived off of campus, so I wasn’t going “home” anywhere else. Home was down the street not somewhere else with parents. My point is we do not have a homogeneous student population, even at four year universities with largely “traditional” student populations.
We need to listen to our students. What learning can take place in the current environment? Not just the online learning situation, but the stress and anxiety of living right now. We are working with a generation that we have spent a lot of time fighting the stigma of mental health for, and they are more in tune with their mental health needs. College student Hannah Connors addresses some of the mental strain and how to cope in “How College Students Can Prioritize Mental Health During the COVID-19 Outbreak.” As a part of this, it is important to include our students in the decisions we make about how best to proceed because we may think we have a great solution that falls short: “A Brief Letter to an Institution that Believes Extensions are the Accommodations We Need Right Now.”
While this applies to both faculty and students, it is important to be aware of the additional labor many will face from childcare to parental care as noted in The Guardian’s “Women’s Domestic Burden Just Got Heavier With The Coronavirus”
There are many different ways to connect emotionally with students as outlined by Mays Imad in “Hope Matters.” We should choose a way that reflects our individual level of comfort for engaging students outside of the course material. Some of us embrace the touchy-feely element of teaching, while others of us feel much more comfortable maintaining distance. It all works as long as we embrace the humanity of the situation.
One faculty shared the success of using a class Google Doc for students to share what they are reading, watching, listening to, etc. while sequestered in their homes. This helps build and maintain more connectedness while so far apart and acknowledge that we are aware of the strain this moment is having on all of us.
And then there are graduate students. Stop for a minute and contemplate what it means to have the responsibility on both sides: supporting their students while transitioning their classes online and trying to navigate their graduate coursework in the new online/remote format. They have the additional work on both sides of this. Remember mental health struggles are higher among the graduate student population than the larger population. Check in with them as both your students and your colleagues.
Transitioning to Online Learning
Before I list some of the great technical resources and ideas that have been shared, I would like to start with what the spirit of the transition to remote learning can look like. Associate Professor Brandon L. Bayne created a statement of principles addressing the current situation for his students and was kind enough to share it for others’ use. Let’s not forget to acknowledge our sources (it has already been adopted by an entire college without noting where it came from among other places).
And as Professor Rebecca Barrett-Fox implores before sharing her tips for moving online, “Please Do a Bad Job of Putting Your Courses Online” because it’s not an online class.
Some have been teaching online for a while and offer their insights and resources below:
Nancy Chick, Jennifer Friberg, and Lee Skallerup Bessett have sifted through academic conversations and compiled “What the Research Tells Us about Higher Education’s Temporary Shift to Remote Teaching.”
The NEH has a list of online programs with resources to help the transition process to online learning on their “Digital Humanities and Online Education” teacher’s guide.
Open University has compiled some support links and OER information in “How Can You Take Your Teaching Online?”
Professor Vanessa Dennen shares “offer some of my expertise, developed across a 20+ year career of teaching online, designing online courses, and researching online learning” on her wordpress page for “Teaching Online During COVID-19.”
MLA Commons offers links to a wide range of resources as well for “Bringing Your Course Online.”
HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) offers both interdisciplinary and discipline specific resources in “Thoughts & Resources for Those About to Start Teaching Online Due to COVID-19.”
Here are some suggested resources for different teaching needs:
- Katherine McAlvage and Mary Rice’s “Access and Accessibility in Online Learning: Issues in Higher Education and K-12 Contexts”
- Chrome Extensions
Finally, the ultimate stressor: What about grades? Or more importantly, is there an equitable grading practice to implement in our new situations?
There has been a lot of discussion about this issue. Do we keep our grading system as it is? Is our college switching to pass/fail or credit/no credit options alongside choosing to take a letter grade? Or do individual faculty implement pass/fail in the form of only A or F grades? Do we switch to some version of contract grading or specifications grading? Oris the answer what Professor Jenny Davidson proposes in “Forget distance learning. Just give every college student an automatic A”?
Some have very strong opinions about grading. My position is to be kind and to be realistic.
Once again, this is not business as usual.