As I was teaching yesterday, I glanced out the window and noticed snow falling from the sky.
“Something winter this way comes,” I announced to my class. They looked out the window with end-of-term-tired eyes and nodded.
I took the pause to check the little clock on the corner of my computer screen: still over an hour left. Would my plan for the rest of the class be enough to fill the time? I flicked through my lecture notes and performed imaginary math in my head: short lecture plus group activity plus class-wide conversation equals ….
Then, I noticed the students looking at me expectantly: the burst of wonder of the first snowfall had worn off. I dropped the math and picked up the lecture.
This is not the only time that I’ve got myself calculating time this semester. This fall, more than any other, I’ve found myself haunted by the ghost of teaching near-future. “Are you ready for class?” she whispers nervously. “Are you sure you have enough material?”
I’m not a teaching veteran like Kim. But, I’m not new anymore either. Why am I pestered by these thoughts now?
“It’s because you’re a little out of field,” I’ve told myself. Which is true. Even though I’m very qualified for my current course load, I haven’t taught in some of these subject areas in years. And, sure, I taught all of my current courses on zoom last year. But, this year is different: I’m in person; the time slots are longer, and there are LIVE HUMANS in front of me.
For most of the fall, this was my answer. But, as I asked myself this question after the first snow of winter, another thought crossed my mind: it’s because you’re scared of being found out.
I have been around long enough to know: that’s the voice of imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome—the nagging feeling of doubting capacity and feeling like a fraud at work—has become something of a buzz word in the last ten years. And, its worthwhile to think critically about the term.
As Ruchika Tulshy and Jodi-Ann Burey argue, “imposter syndrome” is often used in relation to women and people of colour. The reasons for this, the authors suggest, are largely systemic and the solutions, therefore, should also target systems and structures.
Nevertheless, the concept helped me identify a specific kind of doubt, one that crept unnoticed into my pscyhe. And, it’s the unnoticed part that I find the most discomforting. Because, as a rule, my inner narrator is positive or neutral. Sure, I can lapse when I’m stressed but generally my conscious thoughts are constructive.
So, rather than thinking “I’m not capable of doing this” or “I’m a fraud,” I’ve been casually organizing a chunk of my teaching life – extra prep time, constant in-class stress – around feelings of fear and doubt.
My self-doubt, it turns out, is sneaky. She has burrowed beneath my conscious thoughts, where she can influence my actions
Which: of course! I KNOW that one of the most impactful manifestations of power is when it hides itself within bodies so that thoughts and actions appear naturalized. And even though I think and talk and teach about power and bodies all the time, I forgot that systems of power don’t only effect abstract bodies, they impact MY BODY.
The good news is, that, precisely because I teach and talk and think about power so frequently, I have a toolkit for counteracting power structures.
I’m currently working on re-orienting my actions and habits by resisting the urge to do more prep, by being okay with “not perfect” classes, by encouraging more participating from students. And, in doing a bit of digging, I found some of Kim’s old posts, which offer great insights (and some cross-temporal emotional companionship) on these subjects.
For our next post, we’ll feature one of these older posts.
In the meantime, I’m going to do a little searching, to see other not-so-helpful-feeling have burrowed their way into my actions so that I can do the work of promptly exhuming them.
A standing ovation from the crowd! So much applause! A dance party (at a safe distance)!
“The Pleva”, as it’s known at Western, is the university’s top achievement in teaching for tenured faculty (there are other prizes for faculty on shorter-term contracts, and pre-tenured faculty – a prize Kim also won in 2009). In this win, Kim joins several other distinguished former winners in her department (English and Writing Studies), one of the most decorated band of teachers on Western’s campus. (Read more about Kim’s win here.)
Being thoroughly herself, though, Kim is wary to do too much horn-tooting. So, rather than fan-girling over Kim’s pedagogical excellence in a post of my own, I decided to interview her to get her most up-to-date teaching reflections.
KELSEY: Teaching as activism has been a central tenet of your pedagogical practice. How has your understanding of teaching as activism evolved in the last five years?
KIM: Great question. When I first used the phrase “the activist classroom” it was 2011, and I was thinking of activism specifically in terms of “activation” – activating students’ imaginations, engagement with big ideas, curiosity; empowering students as informed citizens, helping them to believe in their own value and worth as smart, capable humans.
Today, the popular landscape of “activism” has changed significantly and importantly – this is something I’ve been very aware of as the AC has changed over time, too. And although I’ve never identified as an activist (specifically because public activism takes LOADS of work that I do not do, but which I very much respect and admire), I have come to recognize activist teaching as teaching that, among other things, informs and invites students to think carefully about activist practices in the world at large.
This year has provided a really useful example of what I mean by this. The activism in my teaching over Fall/Winter 2020-21 has manifested as:
a firm commitment to work in decolonizing ways in all of my classes, and to shape my winter-term class, which I talked about in my last post, specifically around Indigenous performance and decolonizing initiatives in Toronto’s performance industries;
a focus on Indigenous and Black anti-racist activism in my fall-term class, Performance Beyond Theatres, which I teach in conjunction with a course in Community Psychology at Western as well as City Studio London;
incorporating information about social movements like Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, Idle No More, Me Too, and much more into classroom discussions and readings whenever possible;
introducing students to the ways in which scholar-practitioners in applied theatre and performance create work with and for communities in the service of social change every day, and giving students the chance to try their ideas out in practice.
I want to emphasize here that, for me, a lot of this work is about learning as we go, too. Like every settler scholar not steeped in Indigenous studies, I’m learning how to practice decolonial pedagogy, and getting plenty of things wrong. And I’m not trained as an Applied Theatre practitioner, either. So this has been about reading new stuff, talking to colleagues and inviting them to visit the class on Zoom, inviting loads of artists on the front-lines of performance activism to come speak and share work with us, and of course paying everyone properly.
I guess that means the short answer to your question, Kelsey, is: for me today, activist teaching means continuing to be humble about what I don’t know, learning from those who do, putting energy into that learning and making it a transparent process with my students, and sharing all the resources at my disposal (including my university’s money!) to support those for whom activism is not just pedagogy, but hard-won action.
KELSEY: Awards offer opportunities to reflect but also look forward. Where do you envision teaching taking you in the next five years? In what areas are you looking to develop your practice?
KIM: This is, in fact, not the only teaching award I’ve had the honour to receive in the last 12 months; last June I was named one of Western’s new Experiential Learning Innovation Scholars. That’s a project-based prize, and it’s going to fund a new cross-faculty course I’m cooking up called Building A Creative Campus.
The class pivots around the core Performance Studies concept that “performance” as we study it is interdisciplinary, and PS is the fulcrum around which the gathering and cross-hatching of new ideas in a range of fields can pivot. (Natalie Alvarez talks about this brilliantly in the interview she gave for my 2019 and 2020 publications on theatre and performance in the neoliberal university; read it here.) The class will feature 15-20 undergraduates from up to 8 faculties at Western engaging in a fall term of exploration with guest speakers from medicine to social work to engineering to policing, followed by a winter term Community-Engaged Learning (CEL) placement in our community of London-Middlesex County, Ontario. I’m working on it with my colleagues Sandra Smeltzer (a media and CEL scholar) and Mary Daley (a math guy who is also a data scientist and a musician).
That project is a full-on teaching-research commitment, and it’s got a very steep learning curve attached. I’m already discovering how to build large-scale mixed-methods surveys as part of my pre-assessment work, and in the fall Sandy and I (along with two grad students and two undergrad researchers) will be running focus group discussions with stakeholders from all across our campus. The course will be built in 2022 and run in 2023; while it runs, I’ll be coordinating it, and also helping to measure our qualitative data. (Everyone in the class will be a research subject. I get a headache thinking about the ethics applications I’m going to be filling out!!)
Over the next 5 years, then, I expect to learn a lot about best practices in teaching research (and to contribute my own learning to those!), to work a lot more collaboratively with both peers and students on teaching projects, and also to gain a crash course, thanks to Sandy, in quality CEL pedagogy. She’s researching (among other things) CEL and mental health, and that’s a really exciting and important avenue of pursuit.
KELSEY: Who or what is inspiring your pedagogical thinking right now?
KIM: As the above suggests, my terrific teaching peers and students inspire me! But apart from that (which has always been the case), I’m doing a lot of non-academic reading.
I’m investing in bedside memoirs: I recently read a new biography of Hannah Arendt, On Love And Tyranny by Ann Heberlein; there’s Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir I Am I Am I Am waiting for me when my current book is done; and I just ordered The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, which I somehow missed when it was released. I find the combination of thoughtful argument and accessible prose, plus the strategy of storytelling as critical engagement, not only moving but also an important reminder that positivist, Eurocentric, jargon-filled argument-building is not the only way to say the things and sound smart while saying them.
I take these ideas into my classrooms when I explain to my students that creative essays are welcome, and then help them visualize what that might look like; I also use these ideas to remind me, and them, that storytelling – critical thinking embedded in worlding narratives – is the method practiced by many of the Indigenous scholars and artists I admire, and exposing students to these methodologies (and their attendant worldviews) is urgent work.
Personally, though, my memoir obsession is also selfish: I’ve been thinking for a while now about writing one of my own, and I want to learn how. I want to tell the story of my background, of becoming a professor after being the first person in my entire family to go to college. I think it will be a teaching memoir too, at least partly, because the story of my growing into my career is all about the amazing, supportive teachers I had along the way.
KELSEY: What are the most pressing questions for post-secondary teaching as we brave the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2021?
KIM: I am excited to report that I’m about to go on sabbatical, so I don’t care! BWAHAHAHAHA!
No, seriously. Joking aside, I think every one of us who is burned out and 30 seconds from bursting into tears – students, staff, faculty alike – need to take at least a couple of weeks this summer to Just. Stop.
Stop and reflect. What did we learn? About ourselves? Our universities? Each other? Our systems? We need to think about what to keep and what to change. About what to build.
Things I learned include:
office hours/meetings while walking the dog are amazing and refreshing and creative;
I need a new laptop;
developing and sustaining functional movement is way more important than lifting your PR or maxing out your reps (go here to get a clearer picture of what I mean – don’t think I don’t like a nice kettle bell swing!);
more and better technology allows us to innovate in our classrooms, and we need to invest in the tools and the training and the people to support it all, at a structural level;
the climate emergency did not go away, so thinking sustainably in all elements of course design (and when planning conference engagements…) remains urgent;
nothing beats live in person, at least 75% of the time. Performers know it best: face to face generates learning that cannot be replicated on a screen, no matter how hard you try. Let’s keep our new tech, sure – there are lots of times it’s amazing. But let’s never take our in-person interactions for granted ever again.
KELSEY: Totally superfluous question. Academic conferences are largely still online, meaning that Summer 2021 won’t have the typical conference circuits. What are your summer 2021 plans?
KIM: Honestly, gardening! Sitting on my back porch. Walking my dog and riding my bike. This may be the first summer in history I don’t have to travel – can’t go anywhere! – so I’m going to embrace it. All summers, truly, should start with us giving ourselves a nice break.
Many of our readers know that Kim often writes for the popular academic//fitness blog Fit is a Feminist Issue. A few days ago, FiFi blogger Marjorie Hundtoft, who teaches middle school in Portland, Oregon, wrote a superb piece about the links among activism, teaching, and fitness that really resonated for us with the conversation post we shared on 26 October.
Kelsey has been worried about losing the “activism” in her classrooms among all the Zooms and the COVID panics and all the other weighty stuff that is occupying our brains and sapping our energy stores as teachers right now; Kim offered some thoughts in response. Marjorie, though – who is living and working in one of several “ground zero” spots this US election cycle – had concrete ideas to share, and has graciously agreed for us to reblog her work here. We hope it is inspiring and joyful!
[The post below originally appeared here on 27 October 2020.]
As we all look towards next week and what so many of us hope will be the end of an extraordinary chapter in American history, I find myself reflecting upon the last four years and how my life has been shaped in the face of such tumultuous times. I’ve always considered my work as an educator serving disadvantaged communities to be a form of activism and empowerment, but after the election of Trump, I found myself needing to do more.
I got involved in my union, started going to rallies and protests far more frequently, wrote more letters, signed more petitions, spoke out more often, and attended conferences to build my skills, network with other activists, and improve my effectiveness. During this time, I also became a better runner and a more consistent, and stronger, lifter.
These two parts of my world, my activism and my fitness, reinforce each other, give me strength, and feed my soul in complementary ways. In no particular order, here are some parallel truths I’ve noted between activism, living an active life and the perseverance, tenacity, and ups and downs of doing the work over the long term.
Everything counts. Do something.
Embrace practices that play to your strengths.
Embrace opportunities to bring up your weaknesses.
It’s never too late, and we’re never too old, to get started.
Focus on what can be done, not on what limits us.
There will be “seasons” to our efforts, which is absolutely ok. In fact, it’s necessary to acknowledge so that we have the energy to keep doing the work over the long haul.
Progress is rarely linear.
Having the time is about priorities and setting boundaries.
Most of our efforts would benefit from getting more high quality sleep.
It’s ok, and maybe even advisable, to specialize for a while and develop “your thing.”
Recovery is just as important as pushing hard.
“Balance” looks like different levels of effort and commitment at different points in time.
Don’t rely on motivation, which can be fickle; instead build routines and habits to keep doing the work when passions recede.
Nothing is more inspiring than finally getting started.
Accountability and community in the form of friends with shared values and shared efforts goes a long way.
A certain amount of discomfort is required in order for there to be growth and change.
Consistency trumps perfection.
Remember this work is a privilege.
Celebrate every victory, regardless of how small. (And then go out and do the next thing.)
And finally: avoid confusing the goal for the work. Even if I lift the weight, run the miles, and hold government officials accountable, the work is not over. Next week, whatever happens on Election Day, the work of my activism will continue. The skills I’ve learned in fitness to push through the hard times, to reprioritize my time as my needs change, and to focus on the process over the outcome have served me well as I’ve shifted my energies and gotten more involved in politics and advocacy. I really want to be on the winning team next week. I’m tired of feeling so angry, and hopeless, frustrated, and scared. My life in fitness has shown me that I can weather whatever challenges face me next, but I’m really ready to take a break from what feels like endless new hurdles and celebrate some victories for a little while! Whatever comes, I raise a glass to all of my fellow activists and the efforts you’ve made alongside me these past four years. It is an honor to do this work with you!
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found organizing fellow educators, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, in Portland, Oregon.
Hello AC readers! Though I’ve been playing a behind the scenes role all summer, its been a while since I (Kelsey) have posted.
In the time since my last post for the AC, spring and summer crumbled into fall, I moved (back) to Montreal, and I got hired for a limited term teaching appointment. So. I’m teaching full time again. Which is great! I’m thrilled to be back in a classroom. Even a virtual one. And also ….
I need advice. So, I thought I’d mix up format and address this advice to Kim. You’ll find my post first and Kim’s ever-helpful response below!
Kim, I need help.
As we all know, COVID-19 has fundamentally and indeterminately altered the post-secondary teaching landscape. The scope of these changes vary by location. Some institutions remain predominantly in-person; others combine in-person and online activities; others are totally online. The mix is unprecedented. As is the volume of online courses. As is the experience of our students, who are suddenly navigating full-time online learning. As is our workload which now incorporates any possible combination of synchronous, asynchronous, side-ways synchronous teaching methods.
And I’m having a hard time locating pedagogical activism in the muddle.
The online learning technologies are all … fine. They work. (Except, you know, when they don’t). But they’re hard to pedagogically-activist-hack. Zoom, for example, can accommodate lots of users but it also curates and curtails polyvocality: the mechanics are explicitly designed to highlight the loudest speaker. And, the truth is, meetings breakdown if multiple people speak at the same time.
Also, I weighed my workload, and it came out to an actual tonne. I’m currently teaching three brand new (to me) undergraduate courses. I’m also still researching and publishing, doing community-based work, being a friend and family member, and generally living. This would be a lot in a regular year. I know that. But, the online piece is like the ghost from The Haunting of Bly Manor (which you should totally watch by the way): invisible, constantly hovering, threatening to pull me under at any moment
Then, there are my students: cameras-on (sigh of relief), cameras-off, sound accidentally on – partner/mother/roommate yelling about dinner in background.
They’re (mostly) really trying. And also, many of my students are obviously struggling. Which, of course, they are.
And, I keep walking out of live sessions, asking myself, “What are we doing here?”
I want to be clear: I’m not anti-online teaching. That would be like opposing the invention of the wheel. Like it or not, online teaching is going to be part of the post-secondary landscape moving forward. And it has plenty of advantages for both students and teachers.
But, I am struggling to locate the activism in this new environment.
And so I turn to you, Kim Solga, creator of the Activist Classroom: How are you doing it? Where is the activism in your classroom in fall 2020?
I find your thoughts above so… familiar. I’m with you. Not literally, but for sure:
we. are. in. this. all. together.
(Does it help to know that I’m drinking a martini on a Thursday evening while writing this? Well I am.)
Right now, for me, it’s all about surviving. The learning curve is so steep – and for some of us, out of university for 20 or so years or more, the memory of having to learn under the gun is so steep!!! – that the win feels like making it to Friday.
I’m very much unlike you right now in that I’m teaching only one course, and it’s a course I know well—even though it’s C-E-L (ha! Rhymes help with COVID – Trump assures us). But the reason I’m teaching only 0.5 is that I have a course release to support my research… which…
Is. Not. Happening.
But the “free time” I’ve lucked into means the class I’m teaching under these wacky new circumstances is manageable. And it means I’m actively learning from it. Over the last six weeks I’ve started to notice some silver linings, and your thoughts above have prompted me to think about these in the context of our space’s operative adjective, “activist”.
SO: here are thought on a few of my recent “activations”.
Our students see us. They usually see us as flawed human beings messing up the Zoom, and that is actually ace. The thing about all being in this together is that we really are; this is hard for them, it’s hard for us, and the more visible we make the labour, the easier it is to have a frank (and relieving, usually) conversation about what’s going on, and how much work it takes, and who is doing that work.
The class I’m teaching is about theatre beyond theatre: it features an introduction to performance studies, applied theatre, and performance activism for undergraduate students. This term we are partnered with the City of London (Ontario), the CityStudio initiative, and a course in Community Psychology, investigating ways to combat anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in our city.
To say this is weird over Zoom is an understatement, but the big benefit of the Pandemic-as-usual is that we talk regularly about what happens which the poop hits the fan.
This was driven home for me last Tuesday, when our Zoom Room, joint with our fellow stakeholders AND hosting guests to speak to Black Lives Matter, went apocalyptically dumpster fire. My colleague in psychology and my TA desperately tried to save the day while I jumped into the fray to “teach” the class that… I hadn’t prepared because GUESTS were coming to speak. It was so tiring and, I thought, wretched—until one of my students came to office hours to tell me she thought it was a terrific class, and that I had done a very good job under really hard circumstances.
That made me recognize that, just as I see her struggling through the quagmire, she sees me too, and sees the work we are all doing. Best of all, that class turned out to be great after all because, in the wake of #techmeltdown, we managed to have a great conversation about who was included, and who excluded, as a result of the adjustments we’re all having to make because of COVID.
How often do we see one another’s work, call it out, recognize its contours for real? How often do we really recognize, really see, the work done by the invisible majority who keep our world running “smoothly”? That sounds like activism to me.
Grades don’t matter. Support matters. I’ve become a less and less stringent marker over the last 15 or so years of full time teaching. The reason is simple: I see the work students are putting in (see above!) and I want to reward it.
Why can’t you get 100% on an English Lit essay when you can on a Physics test, if you’re really good? Why indeed. I began just scaling up to compensate a while back, knowing my students were competing with kids judged under very different frameworks for university-wide prizes.
Recently I’ve begun crafting ways to give students real marks for genuine effort. In the class I’m teaching right now, for ages there has been an assignment that asks students to weigh in on a weekly “prompt” with a paragraph or so of thoughts, links, images, videos, etc, representing serious engagement with the problems at hand. Sometimes these prompts come from our weekly readings, and sometimes from a real-world application of those readings; after students do five of these (out of about 10 or so opportunities), they get an extra 10% “free” (it’s like getting 100% on an assignment worth 10% of their grade).
I’ve been worried about this in the past, because it “inflates” final course grades, but now I am not worried at all. Getting up, dressing self, feeding self, making it to the asynchronous lesson, doing the asynchronous lesson, and then responding to the prompt is real-ass work right now! I want my students to get these “free” marks for actual retail effort! I want them to know that the trying, if the response isn’t perfect or even all that correct, is still worth something proper. So much so, in fact, that I upped the “free” to 15%, plus bonus opportunities.
We are half way through the term right now, and my spreadsheet reveals that the majority of my students are on track to grab all 15% “free”. This means students who might otherwise read as “mediocre” because they’ve not yet learned the ins and outs of critical nuance, or aren’t that great with a semicolon, are going to end up looking pretty darn good at the end of this thing. It’s a leg up that might not otherwise have been supported to reach the next tier.
That also feels like activism to me.
Prep also doesn’t matter. If you have to pitch it, or wing it, just effing go for it. My biggest revelation so far thanks to #COVIDtimes and #Zoompocalypse has been this. If the poop does actually hit the thingy, who cares? We are screwing up like talented home handyfolx and that’s fine because there’s no playbook for this; we’re making it up.
I’ve had a few occasions where carefully crafted class exercises have gone super sideways thanks to tech screw-ups, and I just decided, let’s laugh about it. And you know what? The students laughed with me, not at me. (Learning how to laugh when shit goes wrong and then coping and carrying on with the work anyway seems to me a terrific lesson to take away from university and into life.)
I suspect there are a few of us right now who are working really hard to make the video lectures perfect, the tech in the synchronous lectures perfect, the impossible perfect. That’s a natural inclination for folks like us, who went to grad school because university looked like a “real world” we could super handle.
I once knew how to make a perfect video lecture but I’ve long forgotten, and my copy of the software I used to make it is majorly out of date. I decided in August I wasn’t up for re-learning.
Instead, I chose to put my usual “flipped classroom” prep (lots of 2-minutes free writes and “watch this video then think about it for 5 minutes” stuff) online as the asynchronous hour of our three hours together, and then to follow up only on that prep during our synchronous time together. So far, it’s worked. Students are engaged, whether in the live room or in the Zoom room (I’m teaching hybrid). This means prep takes me minimal time, and the two hours we have *actually* together each week can be spent talking about what we’ve all been previously exposed to and had time to think about. It’s not as much as I’d normally “teach”, but I think it’s more valuable, and as the term progresses I’m putting less and less into these lessons, knowing the students are feeling more and more overwhelmed.
We’re prioritizing talking about how we are doing, and what it means to be just “good enough” sometimes, rather than the perfect we’ve been taught to strive for. I suspect that, if I’d had the chance to have such a conversation in a class when I was an undergrad, I would have called that #activism of a kind, too.
Friends, are you in your Zoom box, staring at the Hollywood Squares of Students, wondering how it’s all going? Are you on the verge of panic as you push your ramblings through the keyhole of the Tardis, wondering WTF is landing? FEAR NOT!
This week, dispatches from the world through the screen: Kelsey and I are thrilled to feature the reflections (complete with awesome links to even MORE awesome reflections) of an actual, retail online student, the brilliant Akshi Chadha. Enjoy!
Akshi Chadha, our guest blogger.
Every summer, I decide I’m going to change my life. Summer is the perfect time—I have a long break from university. I am at home surrounded by my family. And, I have no expectations of myself except to, well, get my life together. The plans for summer 2020 were pretty straightforward: return home to India, catch up on months of sleep, start thinking about grad school applications, start working on my thesis, and eat nothing but Indian food.
I can positively tell you: none of these things happened.
The pandemic struck and suddenly I was stranded in London, Ontario, Canada, spiraling—contemplating my own mortality and worrying about my family. Things got to a point where I just wanted to get a flight out (which I never did), abandon everything, and never return, especially not to school. Why should I continue to be some oblivious student—an online one at that—when the world around me is on fire?
Because I’m anything but oblivious as a student.
I know I’m not the only one who’s been asking themselves if their education still matters. The pandemic has brought on a sense of futility by stripping us all of access, support, resources, connections, and space—all the things that facilitate our education. Managing work, family, and school from the confines of our personal space might make one question if being a student is really worth the extra effort that it is going to take. However, I’ve come to realize that even on the bad days, learning is a priority for me as it empowers me like nothing else. It equips me to be able to think about all that plagues the world, and how I’ve been a part of the problem, and how I can start becoming a part of the solution. It equips me to able to think. I am lucky enough to be pursuing something I actually love, learning from people I actually admire. And in a world shrouded in obscurity, such clarity about something is welcomed.
So yes, learning still matters to me. But online learning is daunting territory. For most of us, online learning has an ominous ring to it that makes us instinctively resistant. Yes, I want to be on campus, among my peers and professors. After all, it’s what I’m paying for. But I also want myself and everyone else to be physically safe and right now that notion supersedes everything else.
How I look (and feel) trying to figure out what is going on in my online classes.
With these priorities in mind, I’m trying to view online learning as a way to learn and connect with my peers and professors in a time when our safety depends on distance. Remote learning is inconvenient, however, it can become meaningful and effective if we try to view it as a solution to learning in a pandemic rather than an infliction.
So here I am: trying to keep track of a million Zoom invites, trying to actively engage with whatever is in front of me (a screen? a book? a baking sheet?), and trying to take charge of my learning in a way I didn’t have to before. Simply trying. And with this relatively optimistic outlook, I started an online blog series for my peers in the faculty of Arts and Humanities at Western University, called ‘How to ‘Online Student’’, hoping to extend support and understanding to students like me who have no idea ‘how to’ but ‘want to’ make this work nonetheless.
I am not trying to paint a delusional, merry picture here—online learning is problematic in many ways. But only when we acknowledge the slowness, the frustration, the inaccessibility, the inconsistencies, and the isolation, can we begin to find a way around it. Hence: the blog. The ‘How to ‘Online Student’’ series features suggestions for navigating specific areas of online learning such as motivation, netiquette, Zoom, online resources, and community-building.
While the inspiration for the blog came from a need to combat my own uncertainty and anxiety, I was also moved by various stories on the internet about students trying to learn despite inadequate resources and instructors trying to teach despite inadequate technological training. The series is thus an effort towards solidarity, a hand extended for support, and a commitment towards creating the classroom together in the midst of a pandemic. With each post, I am looking to work out certain questions:
How can we optimize online learning techniques and environments?
How can we support (and I mean really support) each other?
How can we reciprocate the efforts of our professors and create the classroom in conjunction with them?
I don’t have the perfect answers to any of these questions, but I’m hoping the blog is a starting point for something. Anything. My hope with creating the series is that we recognize that ‘pandemic student-ing’ means we have to replace our usual goals with pandemic goals: mindfulness, self-compassion, self-awareness, responsibility, finding value in learning, and maintaining connections in the face of debilitating isolation. If there’s one thing I wish everyone would take away from the blog series, it would be that we should remember to be human—in every good sense of the word—in these perpetually digital times.
And that we should remember to breathe while doing all this superhero stuff!
About our guest author:
I am a fourth-year student pursuing an Honors Specialization in English and Creative Writing at Western University. I write things—some of them have been published or are forthcoming in Watch Your Head, The Roadrunner Review, Symposium, and SNAPS, Salve, and The Forest City Poetry Anthology. As a writer, I’m interested in the immense potential of the written word in helping make the world a little bit better so that is what I’m always striving to work towards. You can find me at www.akshichadha.com!