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Category: teaching

LFH: Day 13

It was a relief to get through the teaching part of the week. I turned my attention to the admin stuff that I had put aside while I was figuring out classes and Zoom. In addition to the usual department and university tasks, I also needed to finish setting up my laptop

A couple of weeks before spring break I finally pulled the trigger and nuked the Windows 10 OS on my work laptop. I got Debian 10 up and running and installed a few of the additional programs I knew I wanted, and I got the dock, external keyboard, and mouse working. But I was short of a fully satisfactory system, and now I also had to manage new video and communication programs. I’d been switching between computers and between different Zoom apps and it was frustrating because each option had drawbacks.

Yesterday morning I managed to get the Linux Zoom client for Debian installed successfully, and what a difference that made. It seems to be full-featured and I can keep it running in the background. I also discovered that Microsoft Teams has a Linux version and that turned out to be relatively easy to install as well. Once both were up and running I uninstalled Google Chrome. I also installed my preferred alternative to Microsoft Office for simple tasks, which is the desktop (non-server) version of OnlyOffice. I’m a long way from a Linux expert so getting everything I wanted felt like a major accomplishment. And I got my bluetooth earbuds to work after a little bit of tinkering and dowloading.

That done, I logged into Zoom for yet another admin meeting. I’m on a college scholarship committee for incoming students. It gives research-focused students a full scholarship in one of four areas, and I’m on the one for social science. I’ve done it for years and I enjoy it a great deal. Usually we invite the finalist candidates out for a weekend and show them the campus and then interview them. The university visit is frequently a deciding factor for these kids, who are highly sought after. Obviously this year the campus visit, which would have taken place this weekend, wasn’t possible, but the College decided to keep as much of the schedule as they could, switching to virtual hangouts with current scholars and then video interviews with the committee.

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LFH: Days 11 & 12

I missed writing up Day 11 yesterday because I was busy making PowerPoints for my classes. I should have done that on Tuesday, which is what I’d promised the students, but Tuesday I was busy putting out administrative fires and holding Zoom meetings. So here’s a recap of both days, what I can remember.

The administrative stuff is winding down a little, but we still have upcoming faculty meetings that we have to prepare materials for. As part of the department’s governance this semester I’m included in a bunch of stuff that in ordinary times would have been mostly routine but is now more work. On top of that we’re still trying to find solutions for students whose study abroad programs ended abruptly. Luckily it’s a subset of the overall population of study-abroad students, but each one takes work. Then there’s the book chapter I completely forgot I had to finish revising this past week, so that was another round of emails with my extremely understanding editor who was mostly worried when he hadn’t heard from me. And so on.

I know I did some other stuff on Tuesday but I can’t remember what it was. On to Wednesday: up early to finish the slides for my classes, which turned out better than I was afraid they would. I had technical glitches in the first class (the whole screen-share while seeing the chat window thing, plus my microphone and earbuds not working well together on the Surface Go). But we eventually got those problem straightened out and had a decent class, with less than usual interaction but more than none. We went the whole class time and then I had 35 minutes to catch my breath before a committee meeting which I had to leave after an hour because I had to teach my afternoon class.

That class went really well, with plenty of interaction and some very good discussions. I noticed that on both teaching days the classes that started with technical difficulties didn’t rebound as well as the classes that went smoothly from the beginning. Which is not surprising, I guess. Also, the material in yesterday afternoon’s Privacy class was more engaging, so that probably affected it.

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LFH: Day 10

We held our first classes yesterday, and they went pretty well. TheH and I both have classes in the 10am slot, so we went into our workspaces, which are in side-by-side rooms, closed the doors and logged into Zoom. I had about 75% turnout in both classes, which was pretty good I thought. TheH had even more. I hadn’t scheduled any readings or discussion, they were just check-ins and chances to ask questions about the revised syllabi and requirements.

It was so good to see their faces! Since most of my students are juniors and seniors, quite a few were still here in St. Louis. Another big group were on the east coast, mostly in the NY area and in isolation. I got the first class to work smoothly but in the second class I managed to start with my audio muted and didn’t realize it despite the chat messages piling up on the right: “Prof. P., you’re muted!” But I eventually got myself straightened out and we chatted for a while. I explained the changes and that they could take the class pass/fail and still get major credit. I also emphasized, though, that I was going to teach as much of the material as I could, because our interest hadn’t gone away. There were professors who were talking about ending their classes, giving all As, and the like, but I wasn’t going to do that. (Although my grading is going to be more forgiving this semester, that’s for sure.)

It was stressful getting ready for the classes. TheH and I did a test run on Zoom beforehand since neither of us had initiated a meeting before. I set up all the class meetings in the Zoom option within Canvas but they only showed up in the class lists for one class even though all the sessions had been successfully created. I also picked a bad time to switch my work laptop to Linux. It doesn’t work as well with Zoom and I couldn’t get the audio to work. Zoom, along with Microsoft Teams, works best in the Chrome browser and doesn’t have all its features working in Firefox. So there I was, in Linux, but still having to download and install Chrome. Grrr. Anyway, I abandoned Linux for the day and set up my little Surface Go, which I knew worked with everything, and hooked it up to the dock and monitor so I could have a big screen to see the Brady-Bunch squares of my students in the bigger afternoon class (46 in the afternoon, 25 in the morning). I’ll see if I can fix the Zoom problem on the Linux laptop today, because I’d like to keep that setup if I can. I’ll just dedicate all my communications stuff to the Chrome browser, which isn’t a bad deal (Zoom has a Linux app but people have audio problems in that one too, from what I hear).

By the time my second class was done I was exhausted. I caught up on some work email and then crashed for an hour or so. I woke up in time to walk the dogs with TheH.

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LFH: Day 9

I worked all day, which is not unusual for a Sunday when I teach on Mondays, but my work involved syllabus revision and figuring out Zoom via Canvas. So that was not usual. And there was a little bit of department and curriculum work, which we tried to do without involving the office staff since it was Sunday.

TheH had finished his syllabus revisions days ago and was working on the new requirement (worksheets to replace attendance tracking and reading response papers). I had put revisions off, in much the same way I’d put off setting up my home office (administrative work can come in very handy sometimes). But I was down to the deadline so I had to confront it. I pulled out my class files and looked at what I had scheduled for the six weeks after spring break.

I tackled my Political Protest class first because it was easier and it meets before Privacy (they both meet on Mondays and Wednesdays, one in the morning and one in the afternoon). I usually leave the last couple of weeks of reading open so that students can choose the case studies, and because over the last few years protests have occurred that we can follow in real time (e.g., the Dakota Pipeline protests). The main section after the break is titled “leaderless protests,” which are ones that don’t have a well-known charismatic figure like MLK, Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela at the forefront. After some thought, I decided to keep all the readings, which range from the Captain Swing riots in early 19thC England through anti-migrant riots in 2008 South Africa to Ferguson and Charlottesville here in the US. But I’m starting with some readings on what happens to protest when we all have to practice social distance and live so much of our social lives online. I added videos to supplement each reading and I’ll be making up PowerPoint slide decks with audio commentary to guide them.

My Politics of Privacy class was a little different. After spring break we get into the legal arguments, cases, and history, and there wasn’t a lot of open time or slack. But there was a bit of repetition, and a long article that I remembered had a lot of overlap with a piece by the same author we’d read earlier, so that could go. I pruned and got the readings down to nine sessions, including one that paralleled the first full session for Protest: what are the privacy implications of tracking people who contract COVID-19, and have our attitudes toward the privacy v. public benefits tradeoff changed in the past few weeks?

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LFH: Day 7

One week down, one to go on our self-isolation. Although our self-isolation feels increasingly like a technical description of our everyday life now. We’re still asymptomatic and given we’re past the median point of becoming symptomatic (and close to the 2/3 point), it seems likely that we didn’t contract the virus. The best would be if we did and had very mild cases, but we can’t count on that, obviously, so after Day 14 we’ll move from assuming we can transmit it to assuming we can contract it.

I started work yesterday by dealing with a problem that was not COVID-19-related. It was a student issue and took two days, five people and a couple of dozen emails to resolve. On the one hand I was annoyed at being asked to fix something that wasn’t part of the immediate crisis situation. On the other, it was weirdly reassuring to solve the kind of “normal” problem that crops up because undergraduates inevitably want the system to accommodate their last-minute changes of heart, mind, and/or curriculum. We were able to find a solution that made the student happy. And then back to crisis-as-normal work.

I should have finished unpacking and setting up my home office yesterday but I got bogged down doing a bunch of small tasks. I did get out and take a brisk 45-minute walk in the park in the afternoon. There were quite a few joggers, walkers, and bicyclists on the path, all of us attempting to maintain lots of distance. It was cold, windy, and cloudy but it felt so good to be out of doors. I’m very grateful that this disaster allows for outdoor exercise in most places. TheH went out as well, but we took separate walks. He needed a break in the morning when I was tied up and I got mine in the afternoon. I pointed out to him that since we’re together almost 24/7 and will be for a while, we might want to use our outdoor opportunities to have some solitary time.

On my walk I listened to Monday’s Guardian Football Weekly podcast, which was taped after the Premier League suspended its schedule but before many of the other sports and non-sports shutdowns had been announced. There is a hard to hear but necessary interview with their La Liga reporter, Sid Lowe, about the situation in Spain. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to listen to their podcasts before this. I had tried to listen to last Thursday’s podcast while traveling back from the UK on Friday, but the feeling of the season slipping away, and Liverpool’s first title in 30 years with it, was still too painful. I’m mostly over that now. It looks as if they’ll try very hard to finish the season, because it’s not just the title but Champions League places, relegation, and promotion to be determined. But even if they don’t, it’s not that important. People staying alive through a pandemic is important. If you don’t believe me, believe Liverpool’s manager, J├╝rgen Klopp. His comments and messages have been exactly what everyone should hear about football and society.

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