Coming back to school – Reflection on the first week of school
I left campus after the university stopped face-to-face instruction in March, I did not go to my office until classes resumed this week (17 August). Here are some reflections from my first week of teaching face to face during a pandemic.
- Changed Environment. I could not help but notice a sense of uneasiness throughout the campus. We are used to greeting each other excitedly after a long time away from campus, and exchanging “how was your summer” pleasantries. Instead, this time there is this element of anxiety that I cannot yet fully put into words. It feels like a sense of loss of control, mixed with fear of each other. Whatever it is, it did not feel nice, and I hope next week will be better.
- Lecturing through a mask is exhausting. My face to face class was on Wednesday from 4:30 –7 pm. I had students face to face and online. I don’t know what I expected but lecturing through a mask was a challenge. Sometimes the mask moves as I talk and at other times I could feel my lips pressing up against it. So that is going to be something to figure out. Moving forward, one of the things I may try is to pre-record parts of the lecture. I am stealing that idea from Dr. Ian Lubin. He reminded me that I could take the critical concepts, record them on video before class. When we get to those concepts during class, I could play the video. One main advantage for this is that the videos can be posted to the course website in Canvas, for students to review later. This way the students get the information in multiple ways
- The New Open Office. One of the things I have always loved about our floor is that for the most part, everyone works with their doors open. I would stop by Penny’s office to ask a question. Kali would stop by to show off something cool that one of her students created. At the end of the day, I would stop by Mike’s office to tease about who was staying in the office longer that day. Throughout the day, different students would walk by and wave, some will stop in for a chat. All of that happened because our doors were open. This week though, I was in my office with my door shut, not willing to engage with anyone face-to-face, resolving instead to meet on zoom. This coming week I’ll have to think through how to recreate the open office concepts online. I’ll probably create a zoom link and be on for anyone who wants to stop in.
- The Lab Space. In the emerging technology and creativity research lab, we tried to figure out how to make the space work in the current conditions. The lab is a place for people to come and play with things. It is a place to congregate, to bump into people for chats, discuss ideas, ignite creativity and collaborate on projects. It is a challenge this semester because the space itself is not large so we cannot have that many people and social distance. So, for this coming week and the rest of the semester, we will have to figure out how to be creative within the constraints.
- We are all trying to do our best. I don’t know anyone that knew how to return to OSU during a pandemic. So, everyone is experiencing this thing first hand at the same time, and for the most part, I have to say people are trying their best. From the housekeeping staff that have to clean rapidly and thoroughly; to public safety/campus police that have had to adjust their roles; to professors who are teaching in ways that they may have never tried before, to students who have to reconceptualize what a college experience is like. People are trying. So, it is incredibly frustrating when the stories that get attention are the extremes. Stories of students just partying and not being responsible, or characterizing education as paying for a streaming service like CNN argued recently, are the ones getting the most attention. The acts of humanity that are happening throughout are getting lost. The efforts that people are making to keep distance, the restructuring of entries and exists to create one ways, the dedication of certain staircases as for up and the others for down, the converting of lounges to classrooms. People are trying. I keep saying people intentionally here because that is what is getting lost when we talk in abstraction about school opening. We forget that students are people, doing something as ordinary as going to school in an abnormal time. Teaching students in a classroom or through research is something us professors love; we are just people trying to figure out how to do it in this abnormal time. For this coming week, I am hoping for more recognition of people who are trying just to do; trying to cope and being kind to each other in extraordinary way during extraordinary times.
In the end, I was exhausted. Yes, I think the one word that probably sums up the week,… exhausting. I could not put my finger on why I was exhausted, but I know that when Friday came, I was mentally exhausted and physically tense. Other educators that I spoke to mentioned the same thing. I’m just going to assume that this was just a first week issue and next week will not be the same.