ReaderWriterVille

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Tag: living from home

Weeknote 9

Grading is done! Well, except for one laggard case and I’ll have that in later today. I still have commencement and a couple of reports to go, but then the semester will really be over. I’ll believe it when I see it, though, given everything.

We had not one, not two, but three Zoom Happy Hours this past week. It was a lot of fun to catch up with people. Two of the meetings are semi-regular and the other is one we promised each other we’d do again.

WORK

The university is having a series of events to substitute for commencement, and our department is of course participating. We are in the process of putting together the real-time session and accompanying materials. I am glad we’re doing something, but I am the worst at Big Events (I avoid them as much as possible) so it’s a mixed bag for me. I know it’s a good thing but I hate the process! But it will be over soon.

I have two undergraduate students who want to work with me on research projects this summer. The drying up of internships and the general inability to find ways to fill their summer productively has made them even more interested in working with faculty than they usually are.

I also plan to sit down and map out the next few weeks workwise. I know I need a bit of a break but I also need to make sure I don’t just sit around and do nothing, or the equivalent of nothing.

Like everyone else in academics, I’ve been thinking a lot about what teaching is going to look like in the fall. I’ve seen lots of advice from people who teach online regularly, and some of it is really helpful. But some of it is not applicable. What residential colleges and universities have to do (and all face-to-face institutions to some extent) is devise a way to integrate the online or non-physical instruction with the pedagogical goals we have to retain. A lot of online instruction assumes that students are operating as discrete, atomized learners, whereas traditional residential instruction is predicated not just on teacher-student interaction, but interactions among students. At least that’s the case in my classes. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the curriculum. Labs are different from seminars are different from lecture/discussion-section hybrids. And we still have to tackle the residential part of this.

There are a bunch of different options out there, from locked down, shorter but more intense semesters to two half-semesters to starting later. I know our committees are discussing all of these. Some schools have decided already. Those of us who are teaching in the fall can’t really plan our courses until we know what the overall format is going to be. So it will be interesting to see what the outcomes and recommendations of our various committees are.

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Weeknote 8

It’s time to stop titling posts LFH and go back to writing Weeknotes. Living from home is what I’ll be doing for the foreseeable future, so I may as well accept it. Parts of my state, including neighboring counties, are opening up this week. This does not make me happy but at least as of now STL city and county are continuing their stay-at-home orders until mid-May.

WORK

Last week was reading period and the beginning of finals week, or what used to be finals week. I gave both classes until this week to turn in all their post-spring-break writing assignments, so I’m watching them trickle in as the deadline approaches. I have some work to do but it’s not too bad, thanks to my teaching assistants. Which is good, because the undergrad admin stuff has ramped up again. We are doing a virtual commencement ceremony for our majors, which requires coordination and coming up with something Zoom-focused. Nothing is going to replace the usual ceremonies, and students have said as much. But not doing anything is worse than doing something that we all agree isn’t what we wanted. I’m emailing with my counterparts in other departments to try and figure out what will work and what makes sense. I’ll keep you posted.

I have three pieces out for review. Who knows when they will come back from the editors. But we’ve done our part. On to the next paper on the list.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

It was such a pleasure to write a blog post on reading, because it signified that I’d done enough to warrant a post! TheH and I had a chat about Angela Thirkell over dinner. It occurred to me that since Thirkell published a book a year about everyday village life, the books she wrote during the war might have a special resonance for us right now. So much of what is written about past events is retrospective. The best novels integrate the past and the present (Swift’s Journal of the Plague Year draws on both the actual plague and the contemporaneous fears about a cholera epidemic, for example). But works that chronicle what is happening at the moment are rarer. TheH has never read Thirkell but enjoys midcentury UK fiction, so I’ve suggested some places to start (her oeuvre is large) and I’m going to reread some of the war years books with a new lens.

We’ve continued watching Vera and Maigret, but we’ve also been seeking out feel-good movies. To that end we watched The First Wives Club this past weekend. It is a total Hollywood vehicle and it doesn’t have a great IMDB rating, but we hadn’t seen it for a while and got a kick out of it. Part of the fun was watching extremely talented people deliver a highly competent, polished product. And it has three middle-aged women at its center, women who achieve their goals. How often does that happen? Yes it’s Hollywood schlock, but it’s extremely well executed schlock. Not just the star turns but the supporting roles are well done, as are the set decoration, the costumes, and the cinematography. And it’s still true, more than two decades later, that as Goldie Hawn proclaims, ”There are only three ages for women in Hollywood: babe, district attorney and Driving Miss Daisy.” No wonder I like revenge comedies.

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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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