ReaderWriterVille

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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 8

I finally set up my home office yesterday. I’d been dragging my heels, I think because if I didn’t do it I could more easily pretend (at least sometimes) that things hadn’t changed. I was still perching at my workspace to do things rather than fully committing to the face that I can’t go to my office anymore. It’s certainly not that I can’t work from home, I’ve done it my whole life and I live with a restricted workspace all summer. Anyway, I hauled everything out of the bags they’d been in and set up the monitor, dock, and work laptop on my desk. It all fit better than I expected.

The chair I use is not ideal, or rather it is not ideal given the height of the desk and the depth of the drawer space, but I put a pillow at the back and that gets me higher relative to the keyboard (I have a mechanical keyboard which is much more comfortable to type on than any of my laptop or portable keyboards). And I cleaned off the bed next to the desk and added yet another pillow so I can read or work on a lapdesk there when I’m tired of sitting at the desk.

It will be fine. Fine.

Workspace settled, I dealt with email and small work chores and then went for a walk in the afternoon. I went to the park, which was probably a mistake. I really wanted to get out and walk for a while, and it was a cold but (finally) sunny day. I knew I was risking more people going out in mid-afternoon on a Saturday, but I went anyway. It was fine for a while but there were quite a few people out walking and jogging (hardly any bicyclists, unlike last time), and by the time I was on the part of the circuit that took me toward home, there were enough people that maintaining social distance was hard. I managed it most of the time, but groups of three and four people taking up the whole sidewalk did not help. I was glad to get out of the park and back onto the street to my neighborhood. I’m not sure I’ll be doing that again. We have a treadmill and a rower in the basement, and if I want fresh air I can walk around the streets of my neighborhood.

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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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LFH: Day 6

Yesterday was supposed to be an easier day, and it started promisingly. But then things ramped up in the afternoon, partly because of semi-panicked emails from different university units I belong to, and partly because, well, we’re not getting easier days for a while.

The two cases of COVID-19 involving locally based university personnel led to a ramp-up in exclusion policies for everyone on all the campuses. We’re not quite on lockdown, or “full closure” as they term it, but we are strictly admonished not to come to campus unless we are designated as essential personnel or have designated essential tasks on campus. Research that requires campus access cannot be carried out, only maintained (in the sense that labs have animals, experiments, etc. that can’t be abandoned). The university is trying to make accommodations for things like season-dependent research, but everyone else, from lab researchers to humanities scholars who need continual library access, is to wind down and do alternate types of work. I wonder if the additional policies are in response to the number of people still on campus this week. I believe our faculty and grad students have stayed away, but clearly that’s not the case everywhere.

TheH and I drove into campus and picked up the few additional things we thought we’d need. I brought home my laptop dock, monitor, keyboard, more files, and a pile of books. I’ve resisted setting up an office-equivalent workspace at home; I much prefer a minimal work surface. But that’s not going to cut it for the next six weeks.

The undergraduate students are really anxious, we were told in the administrators’ daily briefing. Some professors haven’t checked in with their classes at all, even though we start back up on Monday. WTF. I know we’re all stressed and at our wits’ end, but we’re supposed to be the adults here! That said, I’ve been dragging my feet on finishing my course revisions. I’ve been thinking about them nonstop, but I haven’t settled on answers to most of the questions. But I’m out of time, so it’s decision time.

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