New Normal? What has my life become?

I know that you might think that my title sounds a little dramatic, but our lives have changed to such a degree that I am not sure if we could ever go back to where we were before the quarantine. So, everyone is talking about a new normal without actually defining what that means for us.

Workwise for educators especially those teaching at the university level our working hours have increased dramatically. For one thing, we were asked to transfer our courses online within 10 days. The other issue that came up was that the majority of instructors and professors besides transferring their courses online had to learn all these new tools while teaching in a new environment. In addition to trying to calm down their students who are having an ever-harder time going online to finish up the semester.

The other issue is the endless zoom meetings. Studies and many news articles claim that it is good for us to meet online with colleagues as it makes us feel more connected. At this point, I am so zoomed out that I would like to disconnect, and the majority of my students feel the same way.

To add insult to injury many of us have to homeschool our children while working. You would think that as college professors we would know how to do that, but we don’t, not because we can’t teach but because the curricula and tools, we use in our courses are different from what K-12 teachers use in their classrooms with our children. Which in my book means more work for me because now I need to figure out what and how to teach my child ELA and Math while he would rather be online talking and playing Fortnite with his friends.

Is that our new normal? For me yes, because even if the state reopens for business, my child will be home until September since schools in Massachusetts closed for the rest of the year. Our district says that the buildings are closed not the school and this is a great motto, but the reality is that 1 hour a day for a morning meeting does not keep schools open. This means that if I want the school to be open, I need to do the work.

How do I adapt to this new normal?

For one thing, I rearranged my study to allow my child room to work with me. So, while I am grading student papers, responding to questions, emails, and so on, he has to log into his iPad and work on his homework. This set up helps with me being able to keep track of what he is doing as well as being available to answer any questions he might have.

The other thing I am trying to negotiate is time for myself and away from work, so I don’t burn out. This has happened to me in the past because as a professor I work a lot from home, and I have a hard time separating work and home life. So, I am making a conscious effort to do that. Which for me means that I need to wake up at 6 am to work out. Take time to make and have lunch with my child. Go for a walk or a bike ride with my child, whenever the weather permits, because he is also going stir crazy from being home all the time.  Writing my blog every week. Which I am currently doing wearing my headphones and listening to ocean sounds on my Alexa device to block out the noise my family is making so I can be able to concentrate. I also take breaks throughout the day to talk to my friends and family on the phone or to do a quick chat on facetime.

What is your new normal?




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Google Classroom? Yay or Nay?

Today I want to talk about Google Classroom. Let me start by saying that I am not a huge fan of Google so please don’t think that I am advertising Google products. Also, this is not a product I have used for teaching at the university as we use Blackboard. I like Blackboard, but it took me a long time to get comfortable using it. Something that did not occur with this product.  I had also heard from several colleagues that have used Google Classroom instead of Blackboard that it was such a wonderful product to use and there is no learning curve.

So when my son’s Greek schoolteacher needed assistance with setting up a virtual classroom due to the COVID-19 quarantine I chose to use Google Classroom because I wanted to take a look and see how user-friendly it was. Also, it is a small school with a couple of sections and with no real budget for online teaching so since this tool is free it was a no brainer.

I found Google Classroom to be straightforward and intuitive to use. It took me a few minutes to create the course shell for each section. Then I told each teacher to go into their course and upload their information as well as personalize it as I did not know what their vision for their course was. When I checked in on them, the instructors told me that it took them a few minutes to start to personalize and upload their course material.

Here is how one of the instructors chose to personalize her page:

Google classroom image.jpg

Since it is free it gives one the opportunity to experiment and try new things out without worrying about the cost especially since most LMS platforms can be expensive. The thing that I noticed about Google Classroom is that you can make your course as simple or as intricate as you want depending on your needs and what you are teaching.

From this brief experience with Google Classroom, I am certainly planning on giving it a try for one of my courses so I can really see how it feels from the perspective of a teacher as well as figure out if it is possible to replace Blackboard.

If you have tried Google Classroom let me know what your experience has been with it.



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How are you feeling today?

Today marks a month of our quarantine in Massachusetts at least for higher ed and K-12 as there are still people that are working in the health care, supermarket, and construction industries.

I have settled into homeschooling my son and weekly zoom meetings with my students, grading, cooking, and cleaning. By the way, my house has never been so clean or organized! Slightly_Smiling_Face_Emoji_87fdae9b-b2af-4619-a37f-e484c5e2e7a4_large.png

One thing that CONVID-19 has done, has made us to slow down and check-in with people. Whether that is my students, friends, or family everybody is calling, texting, and video chatting with everyone. I am receiving messages from friends I haven’t heard from in a long time. We are also taking time for ourselves by exercising, reading a book, watching a movie with a child and/or spouse in the middle of the day just because.

When I get on zoom I find myself asking students: How are you feeling today? Some students are saying fine because I think that is an easy answer. But some are opening up and saying that they are feeling overwhelmed, tired, uncertain about the future, and worried. Never in the last twenty-five years of teaching have I intentionally done a mental or emotional check-in with my students like I do now. As I am thinking about it, I wonder why? It isn’t that I don’t care about my students because I do, but there seems that there is never enough time to really check in with everybody.

The other type of discussion I keep having with my students is about exercise. So who is exercising and what type of exercising are you doing?  One student told me jokingly that she will have a six-pack by the time she gets back to school. Personally, I am spending a half an hour on my yoga mat every day for the last twenty days and I have to say that I am seeing a difference in how I am feeling throughout the day.

The other conversation I am having with them is about self-care as well as the fact that they need to turn off their computers and phones because many of them are spending a lot of time video conferencing with their professors and classmates, which can be overwhelming and stressful for them.

Are you having these discussions with your students? Even if it is a few minutes before class starts it is really worth the time. I see my students smiling more and they are more talkative.

The lesson that I have learned so far during the quarantine is that I want to continue to make time and check in with my students and people I care as well as continue to take better care of myself.

How about you? How are you feeling today?


Should I have a live class?

Is it worth going live with your students? The short answer is yes. Whether you use Google Hangouts, Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate, or a different video communication tool it doesn’t really matter. Going live is an extremely powerful way to communicate with students.

I used Blackboard Collaborate with my students because my university uses Blackboard for our LMS platform. The other reason was that it was very easy to use Blackboard Collaborate since I did not have to do anything but let them know that we were going to meet online. The energy that came through the screen was incredible. The students were delighted to see me and were asking all sorts of questions. They felt connected and happy to chat and listen to me talk about their upcoming homework.

I noticed the same thing when my son was on google hangouts with his homeroom teacher and his classmates. On the first day they met, the children were so excited that they were all speaking simultaneously. Five days later they have all become well-mannered and wait their turn while their teacher was online with them. However because they miss each other they login about 10 minutes before their morning meeting begins just to chat and be with each other. These kids are learning a different way to interact with each other.

It is interesting to watch this going on because I don’t think they are realizing that the way they learn is changing. It is incredible to see how quickly humans are adapting to this new reality. From the perspective of an educator that enjoys teaching online, I am really curious to see how online education is going to evolve and develop in the future.

So even if you feel overwhelmed try it with your students and you will be amazed at the results a half an hour will have on you and your students.



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