A Guide for My Students About Learning During a Global Pandemic

This isn’t an “online” class, it’s triage.

Before reading and/or listening, take two deep breaths.

About a century ago, British statesman Austen Chamberlain — the half-brother of UK’s then Prime Minister, Neville — allegedly remembered the now infamous line from one of his father Joseph Chamberlain’s speeches, “may you live in interesting times” — mis-attributing it to some ancient “Chinese curse.” You’ve likely heard this phrase before, right? The “joke” behind it is that interesting things tend to bring joy to our lives, yet “interesting” moments in human history — tales of struggle, war, conquest, and strife — prove anything but joyful.

Well, it’s post-spring break two thousand and twenty and, my friends, we are most definitely alive in interesting times. The analogy is especially resonant, too, as we’re dealing with our country’s belated response to the global pandemic of COVID-19 — a virus insincerely laid at the feet of Chinese people by our President (and thus reviving the worst of our xenophobic instincts.)

Last week, US higher education, institution by institution, joined in the national public health efforts to begin social distancing and quarantines and moving the remainder of their spring classes onto the World Wide Web.

And so here we are, students: Welcome Back!

I am providing this lengthy re-introduction to all of my courses because I recognize things are swiftly and radically different — that our time’s become more interesting — and we’ll need to adapt to this new reality. Each course of mine contains a unique guide to accompany the massive revisions posted on Brightspace. You’ll find the guide below in this PDF packet, on the ANNOUNCEMENTS and CONTENT sections of our Brightspace site, and in the email I recently sent to your class. Each guide has been translated into a slideshow with voiced-over narrations.

But, let me leave you all with a few thoughts about what to expect of our course as we move online in the next month.

1) First, I remain dedicated to your academic success and personal wellness . I will do everything in my capacity to facilitate a smooth transition from our face-to-face experience to this mode of learning via the web. Moreover, I am committed to ensuring that the remainder of our course is both accessible and engaging. In return, I ask that you be flexible, compassionate, and patient as we figure this out together. (Passage remixed from Krystal Cleary.)

2) At the same time, I recognize that this is NOT an online course. Online courses take time and resources to conceptualize, plan, and execute effectively. This is triage — a messy digital intervention into a face to face class amid a crisis that won’t allow us to meet in person. It’s important to identify this difference. It made me return to the course outcomes to reimagine the class and to reclaim not just what lessons and assignments are absolutely necessary, but to consider what methods, issues, and ideas will most engage us as a learning community going forward. Here’s the stripped-down, low-bandwidth version of the course that resulted.

3) Finally, try to chill. We are all confronting a host of concerns right now depending upon where and who we are in our daily lives. Will I be able graduate? What about my senior project? Where do I stand as an athlete once my sport’s been canceled? Will I still have the job I need to pay rent? Who is going to watch my little brother or sister, my daughter or son? Where can I find access to the internet to complete my schooling? What if I get sick? What if a family member gets sick? When will life return to “normal”?

I address some of these practical concerns in the guide below, including strategies in our transition to online learning. However, you taking care of yourself is at the forefront of my concerns. Keep things in perspective. Be safe and informed, but not over-informed. Stay physically distant, but be emotionally and socially connected to others — including me! You’ll find various ways to stay in touch with me outlined in the guide below. Please know that I already miss seeing your faces and hearing your voices. I know that sounds sappy, but teaching and learning from you is an honor I don’t take for granted. Education as a lived practice is sacred, as bell hooks reminds us. So, while our altar might be moving onto the web, this very human connection remains ever so vital. See you on the other side!

English prof at Graceland University. Writing about and teaching #c19 American lit, protest poetry. Opinions mine, RT not endorsement, &c.