End of Semester musings…

I have taught at UMass Boston since 2004 and I have to say that this has been one of the best semesters ever. I know that this sounds strange especially since we are still teaching remotely due to Covid-19, but I had the most amazing students this time around. They worked a lot, did not complain (mostly), were up for whatever activities and/or assignments they had to complete for the week. I am amazed that my courses just flowed so well that the semester felt effortlessly. I am not saying that my students and I didn’t work, but everything seemed to go so much better than previous semesters. I did not teach differently, nor was the amount of work less than other semesters. Yet my students were eager to complete each week’s work.

As I finish reading their last blog reflection, in which they need to tell me what they liked and didn’t like about the course. I am taken aback at how positive they are.  Here are a couple of my students’ comments:

 “I really enjoyed the material that was covered in the class and appreciate the effort put into it. Even though this is an online course, but there never was any confusion on an assignment which is always a plus.”

“Overall, I appreciated the structure and layout of the course. Comparing this experience with many other online courses using blackboard, I feel like the extra effort put in to setting up weekly sessions made for a smooth experience each week. Some classes don’t utilize the format used in this course and I think those that do not could benefit from trying it.” 

 “I had a great semester in this class. From the get-go the instructor was fully transparent with students of what to expect in this course. The world was going to a tough time, but the instructor made it easy for us to have enough time to complete assignments and she also went beyond to find a quick way to communicate with students. I’ve learned a lot in this course, from how to write a professional email to how to write a short report or business report. Didn’t find anything challenging, just I had to make sure to manage my time wisely so that I can have time to do my assignments. I guess that’s a surplus this course has brought to my life. Overall great semester and now hopping to pass the final exam.”

Usually, their comments are not this encouraging or positive as they always find something to complain about as students tend to do. I am not saying that everything was perfect or that I am flawless teacher as I have my moments, but my students’ comments did make me feel like I was doing something right.

To be honest I am not used to getting so much sanguine feedback from them, so I am wondering if after a year of remote classes, have the students come to appreciate a well-organized online course as they had to take so many of them lately and understand what makes one better than another. Or it might have more to do with the fact that there is a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel rather than how well I design, create, and teach my courses.  If that is the case, I have no doubt that they will be back to normal by the end of fall semester. Or maybe not, time will tell.

Katherine

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Katherine

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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Reflections and Lessons Learned from the Fall 2020 Semester and the Pandemic

When I took a break in August, I actually thought I would be back in September writing and blogging away, but that didn’t happen. I think that for one thing I was more tired than I realized, and I was experiencing a bit of COVID lockdown fatigue. Then of course we had our presidential elections and everything that ensued from that in conjunction to teaching 78 students for the semester as you can imagine pushed blogging to the bottom of my list.

Now that things have kind of settled down and I had break from work I spent a lot of time think and reflect about the fall semester. I am ready to start writing and blogging. Luckily I am able to take such big breaks from blogging because I make my living as a professor not a blogger, so I treat my blog as a place for me to reflect on what is happening while I teach as well as have a writing outlet.

As I was thinking about what the topic of my first post would be for 2021, I read a few of my previous posts and in one of them I wrote that I believed that I would be back on campus teaching for the fall of 2020 or at the latest by spring 2021 but here we all are still in a pandemic that does not want to go away and stuck working from home. Yes, we have not one but four vaccines, two are on the market and slowly being used and two maybe three that are almost ready to be approved by the FDA, but there is still no sign that anything in our daily lives will improve any time soon. Last week I read an article on Bloomberg.com that said that their “herd immunity calculator shows that at today’s vaccine rate, it could take the world more than 7 years to achieve herd immunity.” Of course, it did say that in the U.S. it would take until the end of 2022 to reach herd immunity, but it also pointed out that if the other two vaccines come on the market that the time estimate would dramatically the amount of time we would have to wait until we got back to normal. Nevertheless, the point here is that in the U.S we have at least one more year before we can go back to where we were in the winter of 2020. That to me is so crazy. By no means am I trying to be pessimistic because I am an extremely optimistic person who always sees the bright side of things no matter how difficult or bad a situation becomes.

So, here I am in the second week of February 2021 and I am feeling continuously tired and depressed partially because of Covid-19 fatigue from the lockdown, and the other part is from seasonal depression. Although I am American born, I did not grow up in the U.S. as my parents moved back to their home country, Greece, when I was young. As a result, I grew up in a country that has at least 300 sunny days a year and despite of the fact that I have lived in the U.S. for more than 15 years I still have not gotten used the gloomy weather which is predominant in New England during the winter months. Over the years one thing that I have learned is how to recognize it and work through seasonal depression so at about March I am usual back to normal, this year I decided to work on it earlier and that is why I starting to feel better so as a result I am more optimistic and have things I want to talk about.

Going into the fall semester I thought that teaching/work would be better because the student would be more adept to remote learning. Boy, was I wrong! Not only was it not better, it was actually worse. Many of the students were extremely negative towards having to take courses online and were coming up with all sorts of creative excuses as to why they had not completed their homework on time.  Most of the excuses involved Covid-19 and yes even if I thought that there was a chance that the student was lying, I took it with a grain of salt because I kept thinking what if they are telling me the truth. Would I want to be that teacher? The one that in the middle of the pandemic were millions of people all over the world have died didn’t give students the benefit of the doubt.

What bothered me the most was when students thought that if they could not submit the homework by the due date, they would email me to tell me that there is a possibility that s/he had contracted Covid-19 and needed to go get a test and was not sure if the assignments would be submitted on time. One student in particular emailed me on four separate occasions using the same excuse, sigh… Finally, after the third email I realized that the student was using it as a buffer. Despite my annoyance to the constant emails with the fake excuses, I decided not say anything to the specific student or the rest of the students. Mainly because I felt that the students must have a reason for this behavior. They must feel overwhelmed, stress out with everything that was going on and perhaps were procrastinating. I think that the procrastination came from the fact that they were home and felt that they had a lot of time to complete everything and well as we all know that have been in their place before, they didn’t. It happens to everyone when they work and study from home. You sit there is your sweats sipping your coffee with nowhere to go so there is no feeling of urgency to complete things and no real schedule. But I will talk more about the importance of creating a schedule and sticking to it in a different post.

Although the semester seamed to last forever, and it felt like I was Bill Murray in the Groundhog Day movie where he keeps reliving the same day over and over again. Thankfully the semester did finally come to end with students trying to pull themselves together long enough to take the final exam so we can all put 2020 behind us with the hope that 2021 might prove to be a better year for all of us.

So, with this post I am back to blogging in 2021. See you next week!

Katherine

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Gone Fishing…

This is my last post for this school year. Even though we are not going on vacation this year I decided to devote August to rest, relax and rejuvenate. As I have a feeling that this upcoming school year is not going to be a walk in the part. Usually, in August I spend all of my time with my family and feeding my brain by reading only things that make me grow. For me and my family, August is a big month as we have lots of celebrations. It is the month I got married to my wonderful husband and it is also the month our son was born as a result I always take this month off.

So, because of that, I make sure to finish everything I need to do for September. I start sending emails about all sorts of things so I can make sure that my prep for the fall is complete no later than July 31. From editing my syllabi, making sure that my courses are updated to reflect the changes I want to make, creating new e-lectures to completing my AFR’s (Annual Faculty Reports).  Besides needing a break, I love spending the majority of my time with my family.  It helps me go back to teaching ready for the new school year. I have learned from past experience that if I don’t take the time off, I am miserable all year. By May I feel extremely burnt out and I can’t be the best educator, wife, mother, and friend to anybody. I just don’t perform to full capacity and it shows in my work. I don’t do a good job teaching, writing, or anything else I do professionally. This then seeps into my personal life because I become stressed out, annoyed, and irritated causing my personal life to not be good either. As a result, I then tend to not have a lot of patience and tolerance. What is more, the people around me can tell. Thus, for my sanity and others who have to live, work, and have to listen to me teach for three hours a week  I spend as much time as possible throughout the year decompressing and August is one of those times.

The other thing I like to do during my time off is plan early and brainstorm on blog posts or e-lectures for example among other things because if don’t do that ahead of time I am constantly playing catch up and it is not my best writing if I don’t. Like I make sure that my courses are completed and uploaded long before the semester begins as there is not possible to teach and design/create a course while it’s running. It’s too stressful and mistakes are bound to happen, which is not how I want my students or anybody else to think of me. Also, I teach around 80 students a semester and there are some weeks I have so many papers to grade that it is impossible for me to write anything when my brain is completely fried. So I came to the conclusion that I work better when I take August and January off and take care of myself.

I hope everyone has the opportunity to take some time off even if he/she stays home this year. Enjoy the last month of the summer with your loved ones as this year is bound to be a tough one since COVID-19 is still raging. With any luck by the end of 2020, the hard-working scientists and doctors around the world might have some sort of solution for this pandemic so can stop feeling so stressed out and that we are out of control!

This is where I wish I was for August but maybe next year:

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See you all in September!

Katherine

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Thinking, Reflecting…

This week has been super busy as I was trying to finish grading final exams, final papers of my summer courses, as well as posting grades. So, besides the actual reading and grading, I spent a couple of days just thinking and looking at students’ grades. When I am doing it, it makes sense, but when tell someone that I actually take a couple of days to spend time just to think about the students and their grades they look at me surprised. I guess in other professions this type of process does not occur.

It is also an activity that most in the education field don’t talk about. I am not sure why, but we don’t. During this time, for starters, I want to make sure that all of the grades are entered, and I have not missed anything. The other reason is that I look at how much a student has progressed in a few months or weeks and if that is reflected in his or her final grade. As I am looking at their grades I am wondering if what I set out to do during the semester or summer session, occurred. What I mean is, I always have a set of goals as I begin designing and then teaching a course. It becomes evident if those objectives were met when I look at my students’ grades.

This is the time that I take a lot of notes so I can remind myself if what I used for the semester worked or not. By “worked” I mean, did online tools like VoiceThread, or a homework assignment fulfill its objective?  How did the students react? Did they do well? Did they acquire the knowledge I was hoping for? If not, why not? What can I change to make, so I can make their learning experience better? Or they can absorb the material better?

So, thinking about grades and performance objectives at the end of a course is extremely important in order to begin the process of redesigning an upcoming course. I see it as a way to measure if what I am doing in the classroom virtual or face-to-face is important. Of course, there are those students that register for my course that they are not ready for it or those that are taking, but have no interest in learning because they believe that the course is a waste of their time and they need to take it to graduate. I don’t usually take most of those students into account because how I can look at a student that doesn’t have the prerequisite knowledge in order to do well in my course. It is those students that I have a hard time failing because the majority of them work extremely hard to pass the course and even though they have progressed a lot it still isn’t enough. On the other hand, the students that think have nothing to learn are the ones I that I cannot be concerned about because there is always something to learn, and instead of approaching the course that way, they close themselves up to all sorts of missed opportunities.

These and many more thoughts that go through my mind during this period of reflection. Of course, there is a lot more to it than just thinking and re-evaluating for a couple of days, but this is how I begin the process of working and thinking about the upcoming courses I will be teaching in the fall, spring or summer semesters.

Do you think about how your students did while taking your course? How do you go about designing and then teaching a course?

Katherine

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Giving Grace…

Last week I was talking to one of my grad students on zoom because she had missed the deadline to submit a homework assignment. As I was listening without speaking the student proceeded to tell me everything that happened to her and the reasons behind this. I hadn’t had the opportunity to turn the video on and as I listened to the student I decided not to. The student was super nervous, and I did not want to add to it by showing up on her computer screen, but I could hear her voice. She was upset and worried. Not adding the video actually made me listen to the student more carefully because there was no video to distract me.

As I am sitting there, I am thinking why is the student so upset? I haven’t even spoken yet. Once the student finished explaining I asked so, “What can I do for you?” The student was so anxious she couldn’t bring herself to actually ask for permission to complete the work she had missed. So, I had to nudge her along. Finally, I decided to put her out of her misery and give her permission to submit the late homework. Now, this is not an undergrad that just forgot or procrastinated to do her work. This is a graduate student in the MBA program. The majority of these students are working professionals, type A with extremely driven and determined personalities.

While I was talking the grad student, stunned by the fact that I gave her a chance, kept thanking me for understanding and being flexible because her other professor had said no even though the student had a good reason for being late. I cannot of course talk about the particulars of the student’s reasons because of FERPA laws and protecting my student’s privacy nor are they important.

Once the zoom call was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Not because this is my first time talking to a student who is asking for an extension for a homework assignment.  After 16 years of teaching at UMB, I have had numerous encounters with students, especially because I teach the dreaded business communications courses that all undergrads need to take in the College of Management in order to graduate.

The thing I was thinking about how as educators we have a lot of power over our students. We teach them all of these courses and try to transfer our excitement and love for the topic we spent years learning about. I have spent about 8 years in higher ed just learning with multiple professors. They were all great and brought their experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm to the classroom, but the majority were distant and unapproachable. Of course, you don’t realize it until you meet the one professor that will change everything for you. For me it was, Pepi Leistyna he was everything a true educator should be, passionate, kind-hearted, and welcoming. As a student, I never felt worried about going to his office. It always felt like chatting to a friend, not my professor.

So, as I kept thinking about my student and I was wondering about how I can positively and negatively impact a person’s life with one yes or one no. Then I was reflecting on all of the work we as educators put into a course. If we spend all this time envisioning, researching, designing, and teaching courses, why can’t we include compassion, kindness, and grace as part of our teaching practice as well? Who says we need to be distant, cold, and closed up in order to teach? Why do people need to be scared to ask for an extension to a homework assignment? That’s not how education should work. Students should not be scared to talk to me or any other professor. I am not saying that I am going to not have deadlines or have students follow them, but why is it so wrong to bend the rules once in a while? Why is frowned upon to give students grace?

At the end of the day, my course is going to be one of many that a student will take in their lifetime. I would consider myself blessed if they leave my class having learned the material that the course was designed for and think of me as a nice person, they got to spend some time with during a semester in their second or third year of college.

How would you like to be remembered by your students?

Katherine

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Weekly Reflection

To be honest not much was going on last week. It is mostly spent between homeschooling, teaching summer courses, and starting to prep for the fall semester. As the fourth week of summer courses comes to a close, I feel that things are going much better than I expected. In the beginning, I felt a bit overwhelmed especially since I only had a week between finishing grading final exams and the starting to teach for the summer. I have settled into the courses and so have the students. Things are humming along, and we are all doing our work, which in many ways is comforting especially since we are still up in the air as far as COVID-19 goes.

All of the students are submitting their work on time, which I hope I don’t jinx myself, hahaha. No, one is complaining about anything. It’s too quiet. What gives? Should I start to worry or consider this part of the new normal? Are students are appreciating the effort I am making and are happy that they are able to continue to take courses from the comfort of their homes? Who knows? But I am running with that assumption for now, as my graduate course has 30 students when the last two summers it was canceled because of low enrollment.  A pandemic can do a lot to a person’s perspective and appreciation of things they did not pay attention to before like going to the supermarket and not having to wait 30 minutes in a line outside the store and to find the good paper towels or toilet paper as well.

Speaking of new and old, I am curious to see how things will work themselves out this fall as we are gearing up for another difficult year full of uncertainty. Many of my colleagues are not taking the summer off to rest and rejuvenate from a long and difficult year they are opting to work all summer, so they don’t have a repeat of the spring 2020 semester. Personally, I am about halfway done with my fall course prep. How are you preparing for the fall?

Katherine

 

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