Pandemic pedagogy: Ultra-calendar forces adjustments
An ultra-marathon means going beyond the standard 26.2 miles. Since there are no months with 32 days, I feel we’re now going into ultra-territory: I’m not used to counting days beyond 31. I’m not sure we’re running an ultra-marathon yet. Having done one marathon once, I think that the 26.2M is quite far enough to represent the drag of Pandemic Pedagogy.
And it is a drag. In fact, I realized today that I needed to make a drastic decision about how I deal with the final couple of weeks. The last week was already at the start of All Of This set apart for “conclusions, evaluations, and suggestions for a re-run (preferably non-pandemic)”, without new content. I love to hear from students what worked, what didn’t; I use this to adjust course contents for a re-run. I may be really excited about the story of the “World in a Pillow”, but maybe they’re not?
The past few Zoom sessions I have started off with a whiteboard, and asked the students to scribble down what’s up. Today, in two sessions, what I saw was “tired”, “not managing”, “too much work and worried I won’t manage”, “sad”, “I shouldn’t feel this exhausted”, with multiple students adding a virtual +1. And I told them I feel tired and exhausted, and that it’s normal considering that we’re in the middle of the most worrying thing that has happened in our lifetime. And as the day progressed, it dawned on me: I too need a break. A break from the relentless pressure I put on myself to perform a slick and engaging 45 min Zoom session, for instance.
We constantly are told to be compassionate to our students, and I couldn’t agree more. I also think we need to be compassionate to ourselves, and recognize when we’re reaching too deep into the stack of spoons that we borrow from the future. Taking a step back is, I think, the most compassionate thing I can do for my students now, rather than push through another week of content. I’m not so much worried about their ability to handle the material, but I am worried I can’t be the teacher they deserve. Yet some students are bored at home and crave new things to read and to talk about, or they want the community aspect of our little Zoom sessions. So next week, those can opt in to chat about the final readings for the course, and if they want they can post some talking points on Canvas. Others may prefer to spend time with their projects and papers to prevent overwhelm, that’s totally fine.
This means I’ve lost a lot of content this semester in all classes. But you know, no lives will be lost because my students are missing some content on East Asian history. I trust that by now they have acquired the tools and skills to hunt down materials for questions they want answers to, and the historical insights to make sense of what they find. And not just that: they will show in their final projects how they make sense of what they can find in the middle of a pandemic, with libraries closed and interlibrary loans unavailable. The tagline for our Pressbooks project should be “New and Improved! Now with added Pandemic restrictions!”
As All Of This progresses, and the weeks turn into a month and more, I find I am more and more confronted with the question of what my role is as a teacher. It’s similar to the shift I went through during Digital Pedagogy Lab (twice now!), when I took a step back and wondered what the heck I was trying to achieve by doing this or that. A few days ago I said I was so over this semester, and that I was thinking about how the current experience may have an impact on what I do in future. But I am now itching to get redesigning one of my courses, regardless of the mode of instruction, to radically alter the students’ experience and maximize their path to independent learners and co-creators and peer-teachers, and how I can guide them to a successful conclusion. I’m not sure if this summer is the right time to begin building this experiment, but I am clearly not yet done thinking about how I can be a better teacher.