This is our fourth Guest Post related to the impact of school and university closings that are catapulting schools into distance teaching on the fly!
This guest post is from commenter Pika, who wrote this in the earlier guest post from A Lurker: (Thanks, Pika!)
Most of what I’m hearing from the students–especially as Lurker put it, the graduating seniors–is grief.
I asked Pika if she might be willing to write up a few things about connecting with students emotionally as so many feel adrift, ripped from friends, communities, and their physical connection to an institution about which some have complained bitterly but yet still find themselves mourning the loss of.
Take it away, Pika!
Beth A. McCoy
SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor
Department of English
I’m an English professor at a public liberal arts school in Western New York. Technology is something with which I’m pretty comfortable, but like so many others I was not prepared to go all-remote for the rest of the semester.
I really appreciated A Lurker’s counsel about the perils of perfectionism, about counting what we are doing in this crisis as real LABOR, about being transparent with students, and most of all about being kind and not leaving students in “radio silence.”
As it turns out, I’ve been sick and isolating at home since Monday, and so I had to transition to remote even before students left campus. I’ve thus had a few intense days of immediate immersion in online teaching. I’ve been reminding myself both to choose my words carefully and emphasizing building and creating right now and for after this crisis resolves. I’ve asked them to think about what world they want to build and create going forward. I’ve tried to remind them that regardless of discipline, they all have a stealth major: learning to deal with complicated institutions, for with very few exceptions, they’ll be involved with such institutions long after they leave campus. And even as I’ve shared explainers about ‘flattening the curve,’ I’ve tried hard to remain in my disciplinary lane.
My campus uses Canvas, and so for the first time I’m trying to take advantage of the discussion forums and chat function. The chat I’ve used just for students to tell each other where they are, what their physical surroundings are (e.g., cat, no cat), and what they’re thinking and feeling.
It’s been kind of funny, dashing virtually from the chat function to a discussion forum and then back to chat so that we can bookend the academic work in the discussion forum with the feeling work in the chat.
But the bookending with emotion is important no matter the discipline: biochemistry, business, sociology. Students have just lost their peer group. Some fear for themselves, their families, their towns, and their countries. And so if you are in this situation, I guess my best counsel is to decide what emotional marks you want to hit and then hit them often. Remind them that whether in an accounting, dance, or history course, they are in this together, and they’ll get through it together.
Here are some concrete examples:
I offered the following Canvas questionnaire:
Can you please tell me a little bit about what/how you’re feeling right now? Knowing this will help me bend the course around you.
Can you tell me a little bit about the internet access in the place you stay when you’re not on campus? Do you think you’ll be able to access Canvas and Google documents, for instance? Feel free to tell me about any other tech concerns you might have, including laptop/device access.
Is there anything else you think I should know, anything else you’d like to express?
And in one of my classes, I offered this discussion prompt:
Please read this article reflecting upon Toni Morrison’s 1993 Nobel lecture and listen to the speech (audio embedded in the article).
“How lovely it is, this thing we have done — together.”
As the world as it is has prevented us from meeting face to face to reflect on the last collaborative process, we have to adjust to our new circumstances. I ask that you take some time to craft a careful, thoughtful response to the following:
Did you learn anything about yourself through the process of contributing to the first collaborative essay? What will the challenges be as you embark on the next collaborative process amid circumstances that have radically changed in practical, technological, and emotional terms? What steps do you commit to taking to explore what is possible and offer hope during a challenging time?
Please use class time to write your own response and post it.
Over break, please read your peers’ responses and write back meaningfully to them. Make each other feel heard and seen. This is a way to maintain the fabric between you so that when you return to take up the threads of the next collaborative essay, you won’t be strangers.
Carefully crafted words that flower in the fullest, best parts of humanity can be packed up and taken with you wherever you go. Work your magic.
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
Note from WaterGirl:
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