March came and went, and our whole world was turned upside down. From the glories of early March, when life was last normal, to the realities of early April, when adjustments were still being made to the new normal. None of us will be the same again. Most of us now live under “Stay at Home” or “Shelter in Place” orders and teach remotely. And this is only the beginning…
It’s quite remarkable what a virus can do.
So, let’s talk about the realities of the now. Many of our students are working a new job or extra shifts when they didn’t expect to do. Or, even worse, they have lost their jobs in the realities of social distancing and isolation. Survival is a major concern for a larger percentage of students. In The Hope Center’s 2018 College and University Basic Needs Insecurity: A National #RealCollege Survey Report, 45% of our students reported themselves to be food insecure, 56% were housing insecure, and 17% were homeless (Goldrick-Rab et. al, 2019, p. 2). Some students may be back home with parents, grandparents, and/or siblings, and may be required to take care of one or more of these groups. And all of this doesn’t even begin to discuss the distraction the national or world news brings or the current precariousness of our students’ (and our own) mental and/or physical health.
No wonder there are memes joking about returning 2020 for a full refund.
And what about the #OnlinePivot? Chemistry instructors have collectively agreed to participate (and manage) perhaps the largest pedagogy experiment in modern Higher Education – converting our face-to-face (F2F) classes into online formats. You’ll note in the first paragraph I stated this semester is a remote learning semester. That’s on purpose. Remote learning is not the same as online learning. Online learning denotes some measure of instructional consideration, preparation, and design to make the online class an equal but different (to F2F) format for the course. There’s also buy-in from the students taking the class – they agreed to the format when they registered for the course. There are no such requirements or conditions for these remote classes we’re offering this Spring semester/quarter/etc. under the #OnlinePivot. We took our F2F classes and are trying to continue them the best we can under enforced remote conditions.
Our conferences and meetings have been postponed or cancelled. First AERA (American Educational Research Association) made its conference virtual, then cancelled it. Then ACS cancelled the Spring 2020 National Meeting, then made parts of it virtual. ICCE 2020 was postponed to January 2021. And now BCCE 2020 has been cancelled as well.
This month has definitely been a doozy.
So, in this time of chaos, how does remote teaching change our ability to teach? Let’s consider some pros and cons.
Within my current friend and colleague group, we are finding joy in virtual Coffee Chats, Happy Hours, and Karaoke nights. I’ve realized that the #Online Pivot allows me to structure my days in ways I couldn’t before, allowing me to finally regain the physical health and wellness I lost in 2018. I spend more time with my son and my wife. I check in on my friends via text and my students via email or Slack more. I take a nap almost every afternoon.
I am, in some ways, more of myself than I have been in awhile, and I’m astounded by the privilege I’m afforded to be able to engage in this self-discovery. Remote teaching has enhanced my life personally and professionally, but, my students and many of my colleagues do not have the same privilege. I’m acutely aware of the suffering in the world around me, and therefore I practice listening and compassion every moment I can.
There are so many cons related to the #OnlinePivot. Teachers, who do not have experience in and/or have not been trained in the intricacies of online learning, have been required to rework their classes into an online format. Generally, pivoting to online learning requires intense reflection regarding: 1. who one is pedagogically; 2. what content is most important to cover (can some content be thrown out? can some be combined?); 3. how the content should be covered; 4. how assessment of learning will occur; and 5. how communication and conversation amongst class members (including the instructor) will be achieved. There is virtually no time to do any of this thoughtful consideration right now, which means that several professors are turning to publishers’ materials or other third-party set packages to teach their classes. But use of these materials and packages takes the control of the content and the class from those actually involved in the learning process – the teacher and the students – and puts it in the hands of those not involved in the learning process (the 3rd parties, including publishers). This displacement of control results in introducing a dehumanizing aspect to the class. Use of third party materials also introduces a slew of new technological issues, each of which must be dealt with in some way, shape or form. Many faculty are now required to help students find and procure food, rent forgiveness programs, state and federal emergency aid programs, etc. in addition to new learning and tech issues. And since roughly three quarters of faculty are non-tenured (Harris, 2019), adjunct faculty and even some full time faculty are facing many of the same issues our students do in terms of survival and day-to-day living.
The world in COVID-19 isolation is radically different. And we must radically change both internally and externally to embrace that difference. But, in this time of crisis, the radical change may be as simple as remembering that our efforts to teach remotely can find their best foundation in our recognition of our shared humanity.
Goldrick-Rab, S., Baker-Smith, C., Coca, V., Looker, E. & Williams, T. (2019). College and University Basic Needs Insecurity: A National #RealCollege Survey Report. The Hope Center. https://hope4college.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/HOPE_realcollege_National_report_digital.pdf
Harris, A. (2019). The human cost of higher education’s adjunct shift. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2019/04/adjunct-professors-higher-education-thea-hunter/586168/