Adapting and Reinventing Our Lives During Covid

Lately I have been thinking about the positive things that have come out of the year that will always be known as the time of Covid-19, isolation, and lockdown. It is also going to be remembered for reconnecting with the people that matter the most. This year forced us to pause and offered us an opportunity to refocus and prioritize only on what is important in our lives such as family, friends as well as taking better care of ourselves and each other and being extremely adaptable!

Because of the technological advances i.e., the internet as well as software like zoom, skype, what’s app and so many other apps, we connected with our loved ones more than we ever have been. So, the lockdown has not been so isolating as one would think. Being home gave us more time to do other things like go for a walk or video chat a friend something that is not always possible when you are working in the office with other people around you.

It also revealed to both employers and employees that work can continue from home without people losing their momentum. Partly the reason why countries did not go completely bankrupt was because with the help of the internet people could continue working from home.

For me and my colleagues this meant that courses were to be taught remotely. Faculty and administrative staff went online. Our usual department meetings were also held online. While it can be tiring being in front of a screen all day it also has its advantages.  As a faculty I am not always on campus and unfortunately, I don’t live close enough so I can pop in and out of the university to attend workshops, tentative meetings or even conferences as I have to schedule these extracurricular activities around my son’s activities. I don’t mind putting my child first, but I am also a very driven career-oriented person and I have loved being able to participate more.

Thus, as I was reflecting about how work from has changed, I realized that during the last 12 months I have attended more work meetings and workshops than I have in the last 5 years. I receive emails about all sorts of events that are online and since I am home, I log into zoom and listen in. I have never felt more connected and so well informed about work before. It has been amazing. I say this because I have taught online before and at the time the university did not have anything online expect for a small number of courses so if you did not drive to work there was no way you could be part of a meeting, workshop, or conference. During that time, I felt extremely isolated and disconnected from everything and everyone at work.

The necessity to keep things running has made people creative and resourceful. For example, this week as well as next week I am attending 3 different conferences without having to leave my home. Furthermore, since everything had to be put online, I was given the opportunity to grade writing portfolios online for a different department, which is something I have been wanting to do for a long time. It gave the chance to see what that department considers good writing for graduating university students especially since I teach in a similar department for business students. This was such an interesting experience that I would not have been able to have if the pandemic hadn’t occurred.

So, my hope for the upcoming fall semester and new school year as we gear up to return to in person learning is that the university will continue to stream in person workshops and meetings for those that cannot always make it to campus. If they continue to use tools like zoom, they will find that attendance is going to be a lot higher as more of the faculty will log in to join the conversation.

Let us continue to reinvent the world and our lives!

Katherine


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How Are You Really Doing?

The title of today’s post comes from the workshop I attended last week which discussed how faculty and staff are doing mentally and as well as how their wellbeing is while working remotely during a pandemic.

It was an interesting workshop because we were able to express how we are doing and feeling. In the small group that I was in the main theme of the discussion was anxiety, stress, and adjusting to being home all of the time. On the positive side my other two members talked about how they feel that education and learning as well as the way we work is changing. That what the pandemic showed us was that we don’t need to be chained to our desks or classrooms and that we can do as good of a job if not better with a more flexible work schedule as we did when we work 100% on campus. It showed us different way of living and working. One that allows as to balance our lives better. Being able to go to campus once a week to teach and touch base with the students instead of 2 or 3 times a week is a big change. Of course, I have been saying this for years and have been talking about hybrid courses and the benefits that come with this type of teaching mode.

Even the staff that I spoke to were hoping to go to campus as they had missed interacting with colleagues and students, but also hoped be able to stay home a couple of days a week and use zoom to communicate with faculty, staff, and students. They felt that it offered a better way to balance work and home life especially for people raising children. Once we finished the small group discussion, we all came together again and talked about what themes came up. Which you can see above in the word cloud I created.

The other thing that surprised me was that the majority of the faculty and staff were women. I guess I shouldn’t be as women tend to be more in touch with their feelings and emotions. Having said that you would think that we would take care of ourselves better and yet as most of the women there admitted (me included) that they put themselves last on their daily to do list. As mothers, wives, and educators, most women make sure that everyone else’s needs are taken care of before they even get to the point where they can take care of themselves or ask for help. Giving ourselves permission to look after oneself is important in order to take care of everyone else. As well as learning that it’s ok to ask for help.

Overall, the workshop ended on a positive note with the promise to continue the discussion and inform the university about how we are feeling and doing. I see this as first step towards good mental health and overall wellbeing as well as bringing the university into the conversation.

So how are you feeling today?

Katherine

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Spring Beginnings. Looking ahead…

I came into the spring semester with a bit of apprehension as to how the students will feel especially since we are one year into the pandemic and we are all feeling tired and frustrated. How the students feel is important to me as it is a deciding factor on how much they will learn or not. Their attitude towards the way they learn affects me. How does it affect me? Well for starters, if I see that students do not want to be in my class, I lose a bit of my own enthusiasm and passion. Obviously, I am adult and a professional educator, so I don’t quit on them like they do to me, but I am not as eager to do a live class or go to campus and teach. It also takes me longer to find something to get excited about when the students are indifferent or even worse, negative. Of course, I try not to let that show, but it does sap my energy. If done right, teaching is emotional and feeds off of students’ emotions and reactions. Therefore, if the students are resistant to whatever I have to say then I have to work a lot harder to get them to put down their phones long enough to pay attention, listen to me, and hopefully learn something by the end of class.

So far, the students have do not seem as negative as they were last semester. So far so good. I hope I won’t jinx myself by telling everyone that my students are pretty awesome this semester. They all seemed engaged and happy, this make me wonder if they have finally accepted the fact that they will spend the semester or if they are trying to be patient because there is light at the end of the tunnel since we have two vaccines on the market and two coming. Nevertheless, their reaction so far is making me hopeful that we will be able to get through the semester without any major issues. A semester without any problems is a productive semester.

If I am being honest, I am looking forward to a better time when we are all vaccinated and so we can get back to some sort of normal life. I am still wondering what that will look like, but it is bound to be better than how we are living and working right now and for the last year.

Katherine

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Are we meeting student expectations?

This morning I was reading the morning news and saw an article on how Northeastern is being sued by students for inferior online teaching. I am not going to take a position on what Northeastern is doing as far as teaching online goes and how prepared or not their faculty were when they asked them to transfer their courses to online because I am not familiar with the university’s online platform. From what I understand, Northeastern is one of the many universities being sued by their students.

The question is why? Why are students suing their universities? What are their expectations? Are faculty not working up to their usual standards?

I have no doubt that the majority of faculty if not all of them have been working a lot more than they usually do to compensate for having to transfer and teach online in order to assist students in successfully completing the semester because as educators this is what we do help, educate, and guide students. So, have their teaching standards dropped? No, it has not dropped, it changed to accommodate the online modality. You cannot go from a high standard of teaching on campus to a low one because you are teaching online.

So, what is wrong? Why do students feel that they are not getting what they paid for? The article I read did not say. I think that many students like faculty and administration do not understand that teaching online versus on campus is not the same thing.

As far as the faculty are concerned, I believe that when they transferred their courses online, they did a great job and all of the material is there that they were going to teach in class. But in what format? You cannot use the same teaching tools online that you used in-class. It doesn’t work trust me I have tried. In the early years of online teaching despite my best efforts, I did have a few teaching fails and learned from them but unlike my colleagues, throughout the US I had time to hone my online teaching skills.

Also, you cannot just use zoom and lecture non-stop until the end of the semester as the students will be exhausted from all the live online lectures.  There must be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities such as zoom lectures with online activities and e-learning lectures. Something that most faculty did not have time to create as you need to search to find the software you think might work, learn how to use it, and then design and create the material. Time instructors did not have.

That is where the administration comes in. As they didn’t understand the amount of work it takes to create and set up an online course. Two weeks is not a realistic amount of time for faculty that are starting from scratch to be able to design and create an online course let alone several. At this point, I think that the majority of admins are finally understanding what it takes for faculty to go online as I am sure they have heard back from their faculty about the challenges they are facing.

Finally, let me talk about the students, most have no idea what it means to be taking a full load of courses online. Sure, they have taken an online course a few times. That’s different. So that is why they probably feel that the work their professors are doing is an inferior job. Taking a full load of courses online means that the students need to step up and be responsible for a lot more than they ever had to. Why? because now they need to log in and find things as there is no professor at the front of the class to answer questions as they are looking at their phones checking their social media status and how many likes they got on Tik Tok. They need to remember to get on zoom, make sure they have a good working computer, fast internet connection, and actually take notes. When they have a question, they need to log in to their online platform to post a question that might take their professor more than twenty-four hours to respond. This creates stress and tension for students because they think that they should get a response immediately, they don’t realize that their instructor might also be overwhelmed by the fact that s/he was not planning on teaching online for half a semester and is now trying to figure out how to teach in this new platform while teaching. So, suddenly life became a lot more complicated than it was before the quarantine.

The bottom line is that students have to take charge of their own learning and work independently and figure things out on their own. Of course, that is easier said than done. It is difficult for them because they are not ready. This is not how they were taught in K-12. I say this because as a mother of a nine-year-old boy 4th grade has been a difficult year for him long before COVID-19. The teachers realized that children are not able to be more in charge of their own learning and day as a result for the last few years they have begun asking students to use agendas to write down their schedules. So, since September I watched my son struggle to figure out how to remember to write things down in his agenda and to also make sure to look at his agenda. This has been painful for me and him, but I had to let him fall on his face several times in the hope that he will learn and become more responsible for his own learning. These are life skills that many of my students do not have. One reason for this could be that they came from a different country or their school system just didn’t think it was important enough at the time. But like everything else education and curricula evolves and changes to reflect the needs of the students to help them succeed hence the change in my son’s school.

The other problem most college students are facing is that it is hard to have to go from an in-class learning experience to an on-line one and be expected to perform the same.

Let’s not forget that students are locked up in a house with their parents which cannot be easy nor stress-free for them as they also had to leave their dorms or apartments as well as their friends behind. Physiologically they are stress out and tired of this new way of living and going to school. Their lives have changed, and they don’t know when they are going back to school. For now, everyone in higher ed will stay online for the foreseeable future and that is not easy for college students to accept. Eventually and hopefully by the fall semester, we will all be on-campus teaching and learning, but it won’t be the same. I don’t think that we can ever go back to the pre-quarantine time.  I see education evolving and changing in ways we never thought it would.

What do you think?

Katherine

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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?

Katherine

 

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