ReaderWriterVille

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Tag: living from home

LFH: Days 18-21

Twice a week seems about right for these check-ins. Maybe I’ll even get to writing posts about books and travel again. A girl can dream. The week almost had a normal rhythm, with classes on Wednesday and a bunch of admin stuff on the other days, but at a pace which was closer to normal.

On Wednesday I got to talk about some of my favorite readings in both classes: Bill Buford’s study of English football hooligans in Among the Thugs and a couple of law review articles on Google Street View. Both classes went well, with no Zoom dropouts. I did most of the talking in the morning class but they felt OK, and my one-on-ones with my students later in the week reinforced my optimism. Obviously it’s not like teaching the usual way, and there are fewer students attending synchronously. But TheH, other colleagues, and I have all heard from students that they appreciate having the synchronous class times available. They prefer it to listening to recorded lectures and it structures their time. I can see that, since having to teach twice and week and hold office hours on other days forces a schedule on me that keeps me from frittering or stressing away the days.

I’ve been following the stories about privacy issues with Zoom and they make me more and more uncomfortable. The CEO is saying all the right things, but it’s clear that the program was not even remotely designed with an emphasis on security and privacy. A lot of the articles focus on Zoombombing, which is definitely a problem, but the Washington Post‘s discovery that it’s trivially easy to find and distribute the URLs of recorded video conferences that were intended to be private is at least as worrying. I’m doing what I can in my classes: sending invites and links to recorded sessions only through Canvas, using all the exclusion settings possible given our use-case, and having the sessions stored only on Zoom’s servers (although I can’t control downloaded copies, as far as I know). And I’ll delete all the cloud recordings as soon as the semester is over. But it’s still ridiculous that so many educational institutions jumped to use it without any real investigation of the possible problems. At this point I don’t have an alternative, but after this semester I hope there are changes, either to Zoom or to our use of it.

Speaking of which, the stay-at-home orders are widening across areas and causing more closures. The county closed a number of its parks because too many people were showing up and failing to observe social distancing rules. One of the most popular county parks was so full that they had to close access to the parking lots. Our biggest city park, Forest Park, has blocked off some of the roads to try and reduce traffic and also to allow bicyclists and joggers to use the roads, since the pathways get very busy on nice days.

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LFH: Days 14-17

I really fell behind on these posts. Although the days are starting to develop a rhythm, so each day doesn’t seem like a Whole New Thing anymore. I thought I’d be more excited when Day 14 finally arrived, but not really. We made it through the entire 14-day self-isolation period without developing any virus symptoms. Now we just hope that we can stay symptom-free.

After my great Linux Achievements on Thursday, Friday was Zoom-conference-free. It was lovely. I still had a ton of stuff to do but I got through the most pressing tasks in the morning and was able to get out and take a walk in the park in the afternoon. It wasn’t too busy so maintaining distance was easier than the last couple of times I was out and that made it less stressful. The weather improved as well and we’ve had sunshine and warmer days, and the trees are starting to flower and leaf. Every little bit helps.

I made up for my Zoom-free Friday by spending over four hours on video conferences on Saturday. This was the replacement system put in place for our scholarship weekend activities. Although it was tiring, talking to the scholarship candidates was as enjoyable and heartening as ever. They are so accomplished and mostly really sweet, and this batch felt even more like that. After four half-hour conversations with short breaks in between, we got an hour off for lunch and then convened as a group to make the decisions. All the finalists are already admitted and everyone gets at least a half-scholarship, so no one goes away empty-handed. We still took nearly an hour and half to rank the list, but that’s par for the course. That done, I shut down my computer and took a break. I should have gone out for a walk, but it was Saturday and nice and I knew the park would be packed, so I took a nap instead. 🙂

We watched another of the Maigret episodes in the evening and tried to relax. It’s hard, because the news just keeps coming. We here in STL are luckier but watching what’s happening on the coasts and other cities reminds us that we still have a ways to go.

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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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LFH: Day 5

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.

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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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