LFH: Day 4

In comments yesterday Barb advised me to take care of my eyes, and I really understood what she meant by the end of the day. My eyes were burning from the amount of time I had spent staring at the screen. For someone who rarely Skypes or video-conferences, the last few days have been a big change. Yesterday I logged 4.5 hours of live video interaction. First up was a morning meeting, then from noon to 1:30pm we watched the A&S and College Deans preside over a Town Hall, and then I caught up with the grad student I work with the most from 2pm to almost 3:30.

The main news in the Town Hall was about the closure of the university and the ramifications for faculty and staff. Starting March 23rd only essential personnel are allowed to be on campus, and the university has to be informed about those situations and clear them. Labs and other campus-based, ongoing research are reduced to maintenance. The expectation is that no active research will be conducted on campus with the exception of COVID-19-related research. And graduate students must stay off campus, i.e., they can’t be doing maintenance work in labs or any other tasks. Essential work has to be done by staff and faculty. You can imagine how this impacts labs, research programs, and the building of tenure and promotion portfolios. The current policies are in place until April 6, and all personnel will receive Paid Time Off (PTO) days to cover circumstances where they are unable to work from home, for whatever reason (personal or practical).

In between video appointments I tackled email. I finalized the survey for my students and coordinated the collection of information the college needs on how our we’re running our online classes. My colleagues have been great about responding, and so have my students. I don’t have all the responses in yet, but the majority of both classes are in (75% of one and 80% of the other). As I suspected, most of my students are in the US spread across our lower-48 time zones, but I have a handful that are further away. I was relieved to find that almost all of them have decent broadband internet. On the other hand, I was not surprised to learn that well over half of them have regular and/or substantial responsibilities at home that they wouldn’t have at school, which of course affects their ability to devote uninterrupted, concentrated time and space to their studies.

Our Dean of the College, who is awesome, stressed repeatedly that holding synchronous classes is unlikely to work well, and if professors insist on doing it they also must have a non-synchronous options. My survey responses show why synchronous class sessions are unlikely to work. Students are not captives on campus anymore. They have gone home to widely disparate settings. Many of them have parents, siblings, or other relatives and friends who place demands on their time and space whether they want to or not. And in my university’s case, they don’t even have most of their stuff. They have stresses galore when they’re not dealing with a worldwide pandemic, so what they are confronting now makes instruction an even bigger challenge. But I firmly believe it’s important to offer some kind of continuity. We older adults tend to forget that for most children, adolescents, and young adults, school is the activity that structures their lives. It’s their job, and more. When it’s taken away they are untethered. If we can offer them learning, however altered, we’re giving them something that provides continuity and is theirs. At least I hope that’s how it will work.

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