A Year of Pandemic Pedagogy

March 11, 2020 is a day many of us remember well. For me, it was about a week after our last in-person department meeting. At that meeting, there were already concerns about Coronavirus appearing on campus and how we should respond in terms of cleaning and what not. A lot changed in that week. Throughout the day of March 11, we were hearing about the official declaration of the pandemic and we knew the governor and university president’s across the state were trying to figure out what to do next. The answer, it turned out, was to shut down for two weeks effect that night. I still remember wondering why they thought we’d be able to open back-up so quickly.

I, somehow, was lucky enough to have been given a heads up. A few hours before the campus-wide e-mail was sent, my department head had come to my office to chat about…something. As we finished chatting, I asked him if he had an update and he told me we were shutting down. It was late in the day and I finishing prepping for my graduate course at 5 pm. I remember lamenting to my department head how I saw I was we couldn’t wait a week, because it meant not being able to do an in-class exercise I and the students really enjoy doing.

But, because of that heads up, I was able to pack up much of the items in my office I knew I would need for those two weeks. Most of my colleagues were not so lucky. The e-mail was sent at about 5 pm, after most people had gone home. Even more frustrating, no one was allowed on campus until the following Monday so they could do a deep cleaning. BUT, the reason we shutdown mid-week so that folks could work on switching their classes to an online format by Monday…the same day everyone would finally be able to go back to campus to gather the materials they would need. I know my colleagues across the university did the best they could and many made the switch effectively, even without all of the items they needed to do so. The frustration, however, at getting the email so late and not really having an opportunity to plan was palpable.

In the last hour before my graduate class started, I packed up all I could into my rolling cart and went down to the classroom. As I walked in, I asked, “Did the e-mail go out?” In the time it took to me go from my office to the classroom, it had. I remember spending part of class trying to determine what to do, but I don’t remember much else about that class period. What do I remember is feeling annoyed at the two week limit in large part because we only had five weeks left in the semester. Given what we knew about how the pandemic was spreading elsewhere, it seemed the most rational to me to just go online for the rest of the semester so we wouldn’t be doing a constant back and forth. (Even then, I somehow knew that two weeks was not going to be long enough; a year later, I really, really wish I had been wrong about that.)

Like so many of us, I spent the next few days figuring out how to convert all three of my classes from in-person to online. I scaled back what I could and essentially went asynchronous for my undergraduate courses. I recorded lectures. Adjusted assignments. Set up Zoom meetings for my graduate course. Adjusted assignments some more. And otherwise tried to keep myself busy to avoid the sense of doom hovering in the back of my mind. I continued working on developing a research project in hopes that we’d be past the worst of it by the Fall and I’d be able to do my interviews. I continued sending my students updates and encouraging notes, hoping to help them avoid that sense of doom as well, even though I knew nothing I said would help. We all watched the numbers rise. We all developed personal connections to pandemic. And we all watched as our governor desperately tried to put policies in place to flatten the curve, only to be undermined by other legislatures and governing bodies.

It’s now a year later. We’ve somehow survived moving to online teaching, though I still contend we’re teaching online in an emergency situation and not doing actual online teaching. Some of us may have made that switch, but I certainly didn’t. I miss the classroom. I miss engaging my students in a way that I can’t via Zoom. And I miss the awesome discussions we used to have and the activities we used to do that I can’t figure out how to do online. Pedagogically, the one good thing to come out of the pandemic is that it actually gave me the push I needed to finally go gradeless. (Well, that and the very timely publication of a very helpful book.) But, in general, I have not embraced teaching during a pandemic the way I teach in normal (whatever that means) circumstances.

With the increase in vaccines, though, I have a small bit of hope that I/we can get back to the type of teaching we all love and are our best at—however we each individually define that—soon.

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