LFH: Day 5

by Sunita

We are still completely asymptomatic, and every day that passes makes us more confident we aren’t vectors. Of course now that everyone is supposed to be practicing social isolation our behavior won’t change much after the 14 days are up. And as the virus spreads around us we’ll be increasingly likely to catch it. We’re doing our part to stay healthy, exercise, and eat well. I’m frequently grateful that I like to cook, but never more so than now. For decades I’ve regularly played the “what can you make without going to the grocery store” game, and it’s coming in handy.

It was a very busy morning and afternoon, but working was easier because I knew I was getting through the worst of the crisis-level stuff. Of course this doesn’t include all my course revision, which most people would think was the bulk of the crisis-level stuff, but there has been so much department-wide and administrative work to take care of. But I think most of that is in place now.

We got Microsoft Team channels set up for the department (thanks, Cleo!). I don’t know how much use they’ll get, but at least the faculty and grad students have separate and combined places to talk to each other now apart from the inevitable email. We got the updated course information in to the College office, with most of my colleagues responding on time (we really are in unprecedented times). I chatted by Teams and video with my graduate assistants and students and set up schedules and plans for the course revisions as well. One of my colleagues administered a different type of survey than I did, which was helpful. Whereas I concentrated on contextual issues, he asked them about their attitudes and learning styles. Students don’t want long lectures, which most of us already suspected but it’s good to have some confirmation. Many of the students can’t do synchronous classes and the rest don’t want to, another non-surprise. But it’s useful material to direct us as we figure out our pedagogical strategies.

Four university-connected people tested positive for the virus: two medical professionals here in the city and two students who were studying abroad and went back to their respective homes. The physicians’ cases were travel-related, but given how things work they will lead to community spread. It’s inevitable. Testing in Missouri is lagging at least as far behind as it is everywhere else in the US if not more. The lack of emphasis on testing is unconscionable and inexplicable. Yes, I know we have procedures and red tape, but we also have measures to expedite or remove those procedures. The government is making choices here, and they are bad ones.

TheH and other colleagues seem to have mastered our best option for video recording. There are several, but experimenting with them showed the pluses and minuses of each. They’ve settled on Kaltura for most videos because it lets them record different types of content. PowerPoint’s audio feature is still probably the easiest since you can just talk over/with the slides. And of course for Mac users, you can use QuickTime to capture whatever is on screen, which is probably the easiest of all.

I’m still thinking about how to revise the material and delivery for this medium. It seems essential to mix up the types of presentation. One of my undergrads said she loves the NYT’s podcast, The Daily, and apparently it’s very popular with younger people. I’m going to use as much non-me material as I can, saving my me-focused content to be more relaxed and conversational, engaging with the material rather than just delivering it. At least I hope I can do that. It’s going to be interesting to try and balance between the students who really don’t want to think about school right now with the ones who need school to help them feel grounded and connected.

We managed to get out and go for a walk in the afternoon, which felt good. The streets were almost completely empty, except for a couple of children and their supervising adults in a neighborhood playlot. People we encountered on the street observed social distancing rules, which was both encouraging and a bit sad (the latter because in a city like St. Louis, many of us consciously try not to act like other people are a potential danger). We walked by the Thai restaurant and they seemed to still be operating, although tonight is the deadline for restaurants in the city to switch to takeout/delivery service only. I also read that our local bookstore is offering free shipping, curbside service, and low-priced same-day delivery, so it’s trying to keep going.

I have a revised book chapter that I need to get done in the next few days. I’ve been in contact with the editor and he knows it’s coming, and he’s in the same boat as the rest of us, but not only do I want it off my desk, I know that doing my own work will make me feel better. The big conference in Chicago that I was already not going to was finally, officially canceled. They kept dragging it out for insurance-coverage reasons, but it was infuriating, mostly because they’re known for caring about bottom lines more than anything else and this just reinforced it. We canceled our yearly Comparative Politics conference a while ago, as well as our various department and interdisciplinary seminars. I know it made sense to do it, but I’m wondering if we should try to start up Zoom seminars in a week or two. The grad students are really isolated, especially the ones who live alone and are beyond the coursework stage. Isolation isn’t just an old person’s problem.

We’ll have plenty of time to work out alternative modes of communication and dissemination, I guess. But I must be beyond the crisis-panic stage if I’m thinking about virtual seminars for voluntary stuff. That’s a good thing, right?

I missed the TBR Challenge day yesterday and didn’t even remember it until most of the way through the afternoon, when I got a chance to go on Twitter and saw people talking about it. Like them, I hope to post my review later in the month. I think the Ruth Galloway book might fit the bill, since it is about nature and rituals and unfolds over a series of seasons.