Change can be difficult. During the COVID-19 crisis I have seen a lot of articles, threads and blogs emerge about how to facilitate online teaching, like this piece in Scientific American or Inside Higher Ed or this guide by my colleague Jessie Seymour. It’s great to see journalists and scholars sharing and evaluating virtual tools, blended learning and didactics.
But there’s more to this crisis than shifting didactics. Social distancing influences all spheres of higher education – our collaboration, resources, and traditions. Here’s a few things you may also want to consider when you work in academia.
Do remote check-ins and virtual hang-outs
This new situation takes some getting used to, and it is harder for some than others. Keep an eye out for vulnerable colleagues and students. Organize virtual hang-outs, like an online lunch meeting or a coffee. Your colleagues are used to a certain social setting, and probably feel the need to share. Everyone is working remotely and it is challenging. The context differs for all of us – an overcrowded house with spouse and children or a small apartment that you have to yourself.
In other words, be inclusive where you can. Please realize that not everyone has a great desk at home or fantastic internet. Check in where you can, also in asynchronous ways. A kind mail goes a long way!
Stay in touch with your students
I have no doubt that you have been receiving a lot of student mails. Keep reassuring them and providing information where possible. Arrange short one-on-one’s if you can with students who need extra help, and direct them to appropriate channels (e.g. student deans, student GP’s). Don’t speculate too much in your communication to them. Be clear when you can be, and above all, don’t provide info that is not in line with your department. As everyone is managing this crisis, contradicting communication is not helpful.
If you are rearranging projects and minimizing on certain tasks, you are probably doing something right.
Take time to mourn
Maybe you are swept away by this situation. I know I am. The first thing I did was put my courses for April through the shredder, and completely rethink the data collection for an upcoming article.
But as scholars, we also have a social role in our society. Be critical. Pay attention to the world. It’s not “business as usual”, and there will be lasting effects on government, policies and markets. It will be a while before we somewhat recover. If you are rearranging projects and minimizing on certain tasks, you are probably doing something right. This is a new situation and it’s okay to mourn and put up healthy boundaries.
For instance, when DiGRA was cancelled, I had to take a step back. We had a stellar panel lined up and a launch of the Character Studies Network, and I had peer-reviewed many submissions. This week we had to cancel our Eurovision conference in Erasmus too, which we had spent months of work on. That’s painful. It’s okay to press pause where you can. I found this Twitter thread about intellectual work in difficult times to be very helpful:
Get creative with research methods and tools
This is a good time to get creative when you are ready. Rethink that assignment. Rethink your research methods for a certain project. I’ve never killed as many darlings as I did the past few days. Priorities shift and our first priority in higher ed should be getting students to the finish line.
There’s lots of great discussions on Twitter and interesting seminars happening right now. Stay in touch with colleagues at other unis to share inspiration and best practices. This is the best time to connect with fantastic scholars in your field, who also are rethinking what they are doing.
For instance, I found this crowdsourced bibliography very helpful. It lists different digital methods and virtual tools, including more co-creative and experimental ones. Don’t hesitate to add to this list and to initiate similar projects. Let’s share what we can.
Look ahead when possible
You are probably in survival mode, mostly thinking about how to adapt your teaching or admin tasks to this new situation. Prioritizing is important as we are adapting to this new situation. When you feel inspired and have the space to contemplate, consider:
- What courses that you’ll teach the coming months need a small redesign?
- What can you do to make exams and assignments doable for students to minimize delays?
It helps to go through different scenarios actively with your department. Forecast whenever possible. Drawing out different alternatives can be very helpful in this time. At our university, a crisis team is in charge of this. But on an individual basis, you can do this too, and it is reassuring to go over different options in a rational way. You’ll know how to respond with your department when the time comes, and won’t feel overwhelmed or surprised.
Stay healthy and reach out
Go outside and don’t feel guilty for eating all your snacks. Staying active will make you feel happy, even if it’s just by doing yoga in front of your laptop. We are all in the same situation, so let’s use this time to connect. But above all, take care of yourself and your loved ones, and keep up the amazing work. Your colleagues and students appreciate it. If you need a helping hand, I’m here for you. Just reach out and drop me a mail or a PM on Twitter. Take care.