Week 2: The New Abnormal

Global Cases of COVID19 3-24-20

I have lots to be grateful for today, including the fact that all three of us managed to telework in Zoom intensive ways and not break the internet.

My first remote session with my class went well. We are all adjusting to the changed circumstances and ready to make the most of them. Because we were shifting into the more web-intensive part of the semester anyway, our transition from a hybrid course to a mostly asynchronous experience should go pretty smoothly. But I was (pleasantly) surprised at how many people want to keep meeting on Zoom, at least once a week, at least for now. This is a really strong and engaged class. Lots of them are graduating, and of course they couldn’t imagine that this is how their last semester would go. There’s some adjusting going on all around, for sure. I’m hoping to recapture the sense of community that made the first half of the semester so lovely, and have deployed Slack and some good team building activities to help with that. Also, whoever thought that real life in the USA might be as tumultuous as Soviet History? I saw several wry smiles when I said I had an awesome unit on Chernobyl  planned. Maybe we’ll do something on environmental disasters in comparative perspective.

But yikes, the situation in New York is grim. The Johns Hopkins map lists over 25k confirmed cases there alone, nearly half of the national tally of 53k  and rising. 210 people have died from the virus, just in New York.  Virginia, by comparison, seems calm. But only by comparison. There are now 290 confirmed cases here, an increase of 35% in 48 hours. The map shows swatches of blue (cases) spreading toward the Southwest part of the state. I wonder how long it will be before the whole map will be filled in?

COVID19 in VA 3-24-20
COVID-19 Cases in Virginia as of 3-24-20 from the VA Department of Health: http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/

I’m developing a routine for the new abnormal, which involves tuning out the pandemic for several hours in the middle of the day and a couple of hours before bedtime. This is a luxury that people more directly affected by it don’t have, but it’s helping me keep calm and carry on.

To end on another positive note. One my favorite grad students of all time — the first person I asked to join the teaching team for GEDI way back in 2016 defended her dissertation in Industrial and Systems Engineering. Via Zoom, of course. Congratulations, Dr. Noble!

Day 4: Balance

US cases of COVID 19

There are 94 confirmed cases in Virginia — nearly double the number on Monday. The VA Department of Health is including death and hospitalization statistics in its daily report for the first time. Nationwide, there are over 11,000 active cases, with 4,000 in New York alone.

COVID-19 In Virginia
COVID-19 Cases in Virginia on March 19, 2020. From the Virginia Department of Health: http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/

Find balance. Breathe.

Remember that “social isolation” really means “physical isolation.” We are profoundly social creatures, and our ability cultivate connection despite physical distance will be key to getting through this thing.

Today was mainly spent working on my class. Doing so made me miss being in the physical classroom, but also reminded me that I’ve been doing the hybrid-asynchronous thing for a long time, and that this particular class is extremely capable of making this shift and thriving. Here’s what I came up with in terms of an introduction to the syllabus for 20th-Century Russia, Pandemic Edition:

Greetings all! So much has changed since we parted two weeks ago. I hope this finds you all well and safely hunkered down. We will be resuming our exploration of Soviet history next week, but obviously circumstances are fluid, and no one can predict exactly how this pandemic will unfold. As your instructor, I am committed to helping you get as much out of the course in its new format as possible. At the same time, my primary concern is your well-being and safety in these challenging times.  We will proceed accordingly. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions or concerns at any time. I will send out an announcement soon outlining more details of my provisional plan and soliciting input on where we go from here. Meanwhile, please read through this revised syllabus so you will be ready for the resumption of coursework next Tuesday.

Day Three: Fearful

Graph and map of COVID-19

Active cases of COVID-19 in Virginia jumped to 77 today. We also have a confirmed case in a care facility near Richmond. Confirmed cases in the US number 7,660. But you can’t help but wonder how many undocumented (!!) cases are out there due to the shortage of tests. The administration is sending a hospital ship to the New York harbor in anticipation of hospitals exceeding capacity.  During a call-in show with physicians from the Mayo Clinic it became clear that public health officials anticipate needing to keep people isolated for many weeks, if not months. The stock market had another very bad day, with trading temporarily suspended early this afternoon. A federal relief package to provide sick leave, unemployment benefits, food, and free virus testing to people most affected by the pandemic is in the works, as is another stabilization package for the airlines and other particularly hard-hit industries.

Everything suggests this will be a long, stressful haul.

COVID-19 cases in Virginia 3-18-20
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Virginia as of March 18, 2020 from the Virginia Department of Health: http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/

We are focusing on staying safe, but also want to be in (remote) touch with our neighbors and support our local businesses and community.  Even if you can’t physically visit, you can order shoes from your favorite running store  and accessories from the local bike shop. They are happy to deliver these items or work out a drop-off  / pick-up that keeps everyone appropriately distanced from each other.

Now is a great time to support local farmers by buying  a CSA share. We are getting vegetables (lots of vegetables!) and flowers this year. With so many spring wedding celebrations now on hold, this is a great time to check in with your favorite flower farmer to see what delightful blooms they have that might liven up your home full of anxious, stir-crazy people. It’s also a good time to think about how you might help people who are incarcerated and face incredible challenges where the virus is concerned. I know where our extra soap and toiletries are going.

Today was also the day when perfection did not become the enemy of making progress in re-vamping my course. I realized there was significant daylight between what is theoretically possible in terms of maximizing the learning experience and what is appropriate and realistic given how much flux is out there and how stressed out we all are.  I made a plan. Pared it down by 20%. Ate lunch. Trimmed a bit more. Called it good.

I’ve been in hybrid / asynchronous mode for many years, so the shift for me is not as wrenching as for some folks. But it’s still a big ask. I dialed back what we “cover” but tried to maintain quality interaction by recognizing that our class on Soviet History also needs to support us humans living through a major disaster.

So, not fearful after all. Everything will be just fine.

Day Two: Flexible

Global Cases of COVID-19 3/17/20

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US increased from 4,661 yesterday, to 5,853 today. At least 100 people have died from the virus in the US, with nearly 8,000 deaths reported globally. The Virginia Department of Health reports 67 confirmed cases today – up from 51 yesterday, and 45 on Monday.

Virginia COVID-19 Cases 3/17/20
Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 rise to 67 (3/17/20): http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/surveillance-and-investigation/novel-coronavirus/

It’s been a quiet day here. Nairo went to daycare — partly to get him out of the house and keep him entertained (so glad dogs don’t get this particular virus), and partly to support a local business that depends (as do so many) on the regular work schedules of the university and its employees.

Even without the pup it’s been hard to concentrate, though. My mom’s care facility called to say they were cutting back on having outside companion care workers come in. I’m sure she’s fine and getting lots of attention, but the call reminded me — again — how vulnerable and isolated some populations are.

So, teaching….

I’ve been doing asynchronous and hybrid work for several years, so making this adjustment shouldn’t be that difficult. I design all of my courses around content students create on their blogs or collaborative activities we do on Google Docs. The logistics of jettisoning IRL F2F meetings and setting up spaces where we can all still have some interaction with each other aren’t that hard: Slack (for topical discussions, email control, and a back channel for all of us); Zoom (for short updates from me and small group collaboration / discussions); Update course website and flag changes on the LMS – check.

But my difficulties concentrating today made me realize that my students and I will probably need these communication tools for more than learning about Soviet History.  On a conference call with a student-led climate justice group this afternoon, you could really hear how disconcerting and anxiety-inducing COVID-19 is AND how hard and important it is to keep community ties strong in the days/weeks/months of self-isolation. While the easiest way to “put courses on line” involves minimizing peer-to-peer interaction, I am committed to keeping as much of it as I can — not just because humans are social learners (they are), but because the class had a solid sense of community before we parted for Spring Break, and I think we’ll all benefit from cultivating that community going forward. Even if we can’t physically be in the same space, we’re all going through something difficult and unknown.  The disruption of shifting one’s college experience into pandemic mode will be traumatic for many people.  I want our course to be a refuge from the flux and a creative space where we can still learn with and from each other.

Some Keywords: Access, Redlining and Divides

short handled brooms

Today is March 8 – International Women’s Day, which is being marked in the US by the #Daywithoutawoman campaign. I’ve struggled to get clarity on my own stance here — I’m especially sensitive to the point that striking is a privilege not everyone enjoys and have settled for the following demonstrations of solidarity: I’m wearing red (glasses), only spending money at my favorite local businesses owned by women, (mostly) staying off social media, reminding the world that we still / will always deserve equal pay and paid family leave, and holding off until tomorrow to post this.

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The (medium) Hard Work of Open

Long Trail

My what a couple of weeks it’s been….So much anticipation, trepidation, incredulity, outrage, sorrow….resolve…

No, I’m not talking about #OpenLearning17. The course launch last week provided a wonderfully affirming forum for engaging with the forces of enlightenment.  Laura Gogia’s masterful facilitation of a Twitter Journal Club (#TJC17) on Friday brought folks together around a close reading of Jeffrey Pomerantz’ and Robin Peek’s Fifty Shades of Open, and through Twitter magic and generosity Jeffrey Pomerantz was able to participate in the discussion. Some of us even carried the conversation further by annotating it on Hypothes.is . And because the #TJC17was open and coincided with the annual AAC&U conference in San Francisco, conference participants could join the fun and those of us who were not physically in attendance could share in some of the buzz generated by the big gathering.

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The Student-Centered Lecture

fdkomite, Lectures

A couple of years ago, when I began thinking about the courses I teach as places where content is created and curated rather than transmitted and tested, lecturing was one of the teaching modalities I most wanted to jettison. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy lecturing, it just seemed that so little of it “stuck” — and what did stick often sounded parroted or parodied when it came drifting back up through the prose of a midterm essay. My lectures articulated my explanation and interpretation of historical developments I’d spent twenty years studying and thinking about. Did I think they were good? Yes. Did students get a lot out of them? I liked to think so. Did what they learned from them stay with them past the midterm? Doubtful. Was there a better way? Probably.

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