March-April 2020 Advocate: Faculty express themselves about teaching during a pandemic
District faculty express their thoughts, feelings about teaching and surviving during a pandemic
How are SMCCD faculty dealing with the COVID-19 crisis? Are the measures being instituted by the District helping faculty do their jobs more effectively? What are faculty feeling as they go through this extraordinary period? We asked faculty at all three colleges these questions and below are anonymous excerpts of many of their comments. We have also included some initial comments we received on our online survey that asked faculty about issues they are currently facing. The Advocate would like to hear from other faculty about how they are coping with continuing to teach and support their students while dealing with the pandemic conditions deeply affecting all of our lives. Please either complete our survey or send your thoughts, feelings, stories, anecdotes to Advocate Editor Eric Brenner at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland
I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland and the rabbithole is WiFi and online teaching. Students on the other end of the digital divide are struggling and since campus and most libraries are closed, they’re not able to get a Chromebook or computer access to get to where they need to be with the onlining of all of our classes. Also, many students (who work in grocery stores, especially) are being asked to work overtime because demand is so high. Thus, due to connectivity issues or work demands, I am missing students in my classes and worry for them.
However, my dean is being very generous with his time and assistance and I feel like it’s made a rough situation a bit easier to handle. I appreciate his calm and empathetic demeanor as well as helpfulness in helping me understand what we should and can do with helping our students maximize their learning with the least amount of stress in these strange times. Am feeling so very appreciative of our entire Skyline community!
It’s like “life during wartime”
We have to keep teaching, we have to keep serving our students, we can’t let them down… I get that and respect it. But I also feel like, actually, focusing on finishing classes seems like the last priority for the welfare of our students: they need to stay healthy, take care of family, survive this crisis – aren’t we maybe adding to their stress by expecting them to finish our classes? They need to not get sick, do everything to avoid infection and have enough food and money… I’m also thinking about equity: some of my students may be able to continue just fine online; but many may not, for all kinds of valid reasons, given these extreme circumstances. That doesn’t seem fair.
…It’s like “life during wartime”– maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not really, to me. Yes, we want to do whatever we can to help our students complete their courses. But let’s not lose sight of what really matters. What’s more important: whether a student can transfer; or whether a student (or a student’s grandparent) lives or dies based on overwhelmed health care facilities because we did not “flatten the infection curve” enough, because we did not focus more on the impact of this pandemic?? Faculty too – all district employees – yes, we should continue to do our jobs as best we can, but the new priority, seems to me, should be combating the pandemic: staying healthy, avoiding (spreading) infection, caring for loved ones, following the “mitigation” protocols.
I commend district administration under Mike Claire’s leadership; on most fronts, they’ve done an admirable job dealing with an extreme emergency situation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak up about gaps or missteps—in the spirit, not of judging, but of helping each other through. They don’t know all the answers – we should be listening to each other.
Why do I feel so anxious?
Of course, we want to continue instruction to the degree that we can do so reasonably (for our sake and our students). And we want to provide them with some structure and continuity. But for me, the cumulative effect of the encouraging messages from administrators (at all levels) about the need to carry on remotely after 3 days of training have left me feeling more stressed out, not less. I read them and think, “What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel so anxious? The Chancellor and my Dean seem to think that 3 days is enough, but there is no way I am going to be ‘ready’ on Tuesday.” Even when they acknowledge that all will not be perfect, I still get the feeling they are expecting much more than I am going to be able to deliver. I’m just not getting the feeling that most of our administrators really get what they are expecting of us.
I am definitely one the faculty members Jeramy is referring to when he mentions, “fear of remote teaching and learning.” Honestly, even some of my dearest, most helpful and well-meaning colleagues leave me feeling somewhat anxious when what seems to them like “keeping it simple” flips me out. And then I am embarrassed to admit that such “simple” things flip me out. And, yes, I do feel some despair about COVID-19, more that I realized at first.
I know that I can only do what I can do. And I will do what I can. I love my students and am committed to helping them be successful this semester, but I’m not sure that what I am offering is what all of them need most. And I worry about the unavoidable educational inequities that are going to manifest throughout the remainder of the semester.
What about online pedagogy?
We have received very little guidance in the content that actually matters — PEDAGOGY. What are best practices in teaching online? Should faculty hold synchronous or asynchronous class meetings? How do we transfer in-class activities into an online format? What about issues of access and equity? All of these very important questions have not been addressed thoroughly, so each faculty member must put in the time to discover this information on their own.
Part-timers have spent hours that we aren’t getting paid for
Part-timers have spent hours that we aren’t getting paid for developing online-appropriate instruction for classes that were not offered as such. Students also have a right to get the class they thought they enrolled in, since they pay for it.
We need to hear immediately about what happens after April 5 and beyond
I am concerned that the District parties (faculty, staff, and administration) are taking too long to decide on the state of the colleges–specifically, that there has been no announcement as of yet about whether we are meeting in-person or online-only come 5 April. Given all that is currently known, it is not safe for us to meet in person at that time–the district needs to announce that we are staying online-only for the remainder of the spring semester. Additionally, we all now have to think about summer, and the likelihood that we may not be able to get back on campus through most of the summer. These decisions need to be made immediately–they should have been made by now–and the continuing delay only adds to the anxiety of all parties involved.
Reopen health benefit issue for part-timers
We need to reopen the health benefit issue for part-timers. Even pters who get health coverage through a partner are at risk now because many other industries are firing their workforce and those benefits are at risk. And people who don’t even have that are forced to rely on thin public county coverage in a time of a pandemic.
Childcare issues are massive
Childcare issues are MASSIVE. I just don’t even understand how faculty who suddenly have no schools for our children and no childcare are expected fully to meet job expectations. Then there’s the relationship between my privacy/ safety concerns and the childcare issues: My children sometimes become visible on zoom. Students’ children and siblings also are visible on zoom. This seems potentially problematic, and we’ve had no guidance.
Workload of transitioning online is insane!
The workload of transitioning online has been insane! It is so much. I am spending hours preparing for each class and after each class, just trying to move students along, communicate with them, find students and support students. I’m happy to do it for my students (because I care about them), but this is absolutely exhausting..
I keep reading: “it’s what our students need”
I have felt lousy (to put it mildly) by the whole situation- coronavirus and the impact it’s having on our work and our students. Not only did I feel that 3 days to prep was simply not enough, but the three days didn’t even include what was originally scheduled… On Friday the workshops that had been scheduled at Cañada disappeared; I ended up going to the “district” workshops (posted on the instructional continuity page), which were hosted by folks at Skyline, and they did not feel like workshops to me. My perception was chaos, although it was not chaotic really, it was a Q&A session where faculty were asking questions about stuff that seemed cool but was way over my head. I needed structured workshops – I didn’t even know what questions to ask.
I’ve been worrying about ALL of our students, because everyone is affected by this crisis to a different degree, but unfortunately the “unavoidable educational inequities that are going to manifest throughout the remainder of the semester” are a reality which administrators, and some faculty too, do not seem to acknowledge and worry about. And I find it disgusting that I have to do what I have to do because I keep reading that “it’s what our students need/deserve”.
Some suggestions for online teaching
I am fortunate enough to be an online instructor but I can imagine how difficult it must have been for my colleagues who did not go through the online training series. Here are some recommendations:
1. The online training series, taught by our wonderful CTTL, is great, but is so time-consuming. Very few instructors can complete the training with a full load plus committees. Instead, I propose that everyone take a pared down version of Canvas training, with the basics. Give instructors time to do this. We have many mandates, but this one is important. It is an equity issue.
2. Have a simple module template for all online classes. I can imagine the confusion of students having to face different instructors with different module arrangements.
3. Decide which features are essential and have us really learn them. Zoom? Screencastomatic? More complicated features can be introduced in separate workshops.
4. The CTTL staff are our heroes. Give them a lot of TIME to make these changes and don’t saddle them with so much other work.
Inconsistency in leadership
On March 11 our Dean canceled our division meeting by email with a very short note that it was rescheduled for April. The only instructions were to let him know if we had questions or concerns. As rumors of campus closures swirled, there was nothing more that day, no messages of support or promises of more information coming soon. This was in stark contrast to my other college assignment where leadership was reporting specific details relating to my department to us days before this. The inconsistency in leadership within a single district felt confusing, baffling really.
Adjuncts with no health benefits…in a pandemic
Adjuncts do not receive health benefits. I am maxed out in units but have no health benefits. Not a good place to be in with a Pandemic….or anytime.
Using Zoom on the computer in my basement
In the past week we suddenly had to go from being on campus meeting students, having meetings and working in labs to, well, using Zoom on the computer in my basement. This week I was supposed to be at a conference in downtown SF mixing with scientists and engineers from across the nation. Next month, I was going to fly to Austin to get training and bring back an exciting method. Grants were getting written, reviewed and accepted. Part of me is relieved; I was tired, feeling like I was more falling forward than walking… The first thing I did with this new time off was get sick. No not COVID -19, who knows I haven’t been tested, but just to remind you that it is still the flu and cold season, I got pretty sick last year at this time as well…During this time I had these vivid nightmares of being helpless and woke myself up screaming a couple nights in a row…
I am lucky to have at this point housing security…My son was supposed to be in his senior year, prom and graduation are basically out…Another child is in another country and hopefully she is safe. The Internet helps make a connection and I hope connecting with my students on Zoom helps, like it soothes my family. I have to remind myself that this situation is on top of the life that would be going on anyway, both the good and the bad.
I saw an interesting cartoon of a person sitting in their pajamas saying “wow that meeting really could have been an email”. While I am getting more emails, Zoom has taken up my schedule with vigor. I like Zoom but I have some major problems for both meeting and students and families. My students need to develop online etiquette. They are civil to one another and everything, but when I am talking, giving a lecture or a demonstration: Nothing. I made one of them turn on their camera just so I could see something and get some feedback… I find it very hard to give a talk without feedback.
In this day and age I realize that my students and colleagues have lives and problems that are greater than mine… Everything takes longer at home, in school you get the scissors, at home you need to find the drawer that has the scissors, etc. A colleague told me that their students are going nocturnal, doing their work at night so as to not get interruptions like they get during the day… I guess by the end of this, we will get really good at talking to blank screens without the murmurs, looks, coughing, tapping that normally adjusts our lecture pace, content and probing questions.
I also know that I am greatly affecting our students’ lives. Many have made great sacrifices to be in my class. If the class fails, is canceled or put on an incomplete, it will greatly affect what they do. I react viscerally to colleges who say that students who do not have labs cannot do x… This hopefully is a once in a one-hundred-year thing. They will do like they always do, they will learn on the job. The UC and CSU’s have thankfully put out statements saying as much. I am not into canceling class/lab either… While the labs, simulations and scenarios may not be perfect in this iteration, they and I will get better. That being said, a contract to purchase a set of lab simulations is being held up at the district office, rather than being used by hundreds of students. I resent having to confuse students with going to Smithsonian, National Geographic and other sites, where they will get lost, be asked for several donations and probably give up.
Take pride in what you do, do the best that you can do and take care of yourself and family because if you are healthy you can carry a load for your students and your workmates.