About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Preparing to Teach in Crisis


In February 2020, I decided to restart my Blog. I outlined a series of topics (26 at that time) that I would write about, mostly having to do with the research I was doing on International Virtual Exchange.  A week later, our university called a special meeting to discuss the closing of our university due to a pandemic that they foresaw in the near future. It was not a question of if there would be a pandemic, but when.  At the same time, my son, who lived and studied in Northern Italy was talking about an unusual illness/flu going around Milan with a dry cough which was turning into pneumonia. It would turn out to be Covid-19.

By the beginning of March, our University announced that in person classes would be suspended after Spring Break and that students (except those with no other place to go) would be expected to stay home and finish the semester online. We were lucky that our Provost (which I discovered later) was a specialist in infectious diseases; many professors in our school of public health had joint appointments with the New York State Dept. of Health; and for many years my department had been involved in a research project on healthcare disparities in minority communities focusing on (among other things) improving communication between public health officials, healthcare providers, scientists, and the population in marginalized communities.

The Pivot

Needless to say, my idea to restart my Blog went by the wayside as we were forced to pivot to online learning.  The first case of Covid was identified in New York state on March 1, 2020.  We were luckier than most universities, because we had been given about a month to start preparing for alternative teaching methods, encouraged to start thinking about contingencies if the university had to close down. Many faculty didn’t take this opportunity either because they did not believe we would need to close down (we lived through SARS even though it raged through Toronto and Ontario, only a bit more than 200 miles away) or because they were not sure how to prepare for a long term shut down.

While the university had been trying to move more courses to an online format, most of the online courses were graduate level and only about 10% of the courses were offered online. This meant there were few teachers that were trained or experienced enough to create and teach an entire class online. The good news though was that many (but not all) faculty used technology to augment their teaching due to a push/program in the early 2000’s for all the schools to hire professors with a joint appointment in the then School of Information Studies and another field of study (e.g. Education, Communication, Government, Social Work, Criminal Justice). Those with joint appointments would be the resource on teaching and research technology. To support this group of special appointments, an educational technology group and a center for teaching and instruction was created, providing instructional support for faculty and teaching assistants interested in integrating technology into their classes.

I myself had received a Phd in Curriculum and Instruction, with a focus on educational technology. I had not only taught online (having received training within the SUNY system in 1999), but had taught classes in distance learning and other educational technology courses to teachers from Pre-school to all levels of K-12 (primary and secondary education) to university to professional education.

During class, as I was preparing my students for what would happen after Spring Break when we would move the class online, I projected my screen to the class to show them how to navigate the course I had quickly put together on the LMS. In order to get to the LMS, I needed to go to our university portal. Up popped an announcement across the screen to my class: “Effective immediately, classes are canceled for the rest of the week!” The first case of Covid had been diagnosed in the county from someone on our campus. After calming down my students, assuring them that we had everything under control, I quickly went through the course design. Some students were upset, but this seemed to calm them. Other students were convinced they’d be back on campus by the beginning of April.

While I and some other colleagues in my department who had been teaching online for a while were prepared, many others were not. Three of us stepped up to help prepare those that were not. They had 10 days to figure out what they would do for the rest of the semester.

Long-term vs Short-term Crisis Preparation

For many in the department, they were prepared for a short term crisis (illness, family emergency, snow days). They may even have taught a regular online course. However, few of us were prepared to design for online courses for a Long-term crisis. So what is the difference between long-term crisis preparation and short-term crisis preparation?

  1. Student trauma: Most "short-term" crises result in individualized trauma (family emergency, illness such as cancer or long-term chronic disease). The result is usually an individualized plan to address the student trauma or no direct student trauma if the crisis is only suffered by the teacher/instructor. However, long-term crises such as natural disasters, campus violence, or campus outbreaks of disease (e.g. mold infestation in the dorms, flu, meningitis, or other diseases that may result in the closing of campus) can result in a collective student trauma. This collective trauma may require instructors or instructional designers to address the results of this trauma on student learning (see Oleenu, Arnberger, Grant, Davis, Abramson, Asola, 2011).  To do this, however, they need to know what will work, how to manage classroom behaviors that are the result of trauma, and the "viral" effect of those that are associated with those that have affected trauma (have not suffered trauma first hand, but feel the affects from those around them dealing with trauma). 
  2.  Student centered instruction and teacher stress: In most short-term crisis it is either the faculty OR the student which means that faculty or students are more flexible. But in long-term crisis, both students and faculty may be suffering from the crisis. Instructors may want to give choice or support their students, but due to their own personal stress (family, health concerns, emotional load), the instructor may not have the capacity to do more than he/she/they may have already done (see Pressly, 2021 for factors contributing to burnout). As a result, student centered instruction may become more difficult, which then creates the cycle of stress.  
  3. Technology: In short term crisis, faculty often use the technology that students are already using and/or can be more flexible with assignments if students don't have access to technology. For example, students that are hospitalized can be given extensions, upload assignments via email if it is ready to go (rather than the LMS), or be given a new assignment when he/she/they are return to school.  Many faculty have "emergency assignments" already prepared in case of a short term emergency in which the instructor, students, or both can't be on campus for class. However, in a long term crisis, issues such as access to the internet, devices with sufficient power or storage, and appropriate technology for the learning design becomes more complex. For example, I taught a speech presentation class. When we had closure due to weather, I was able to upload an assignment in which my students could view videos and discuss them in the LMS discussion board. But in a long term closure such as we had due to Covid, my students needed to be able to give a presentation online. I needed to find tools within those offered by my university that would allow them to give these presentations weather they lived in a deadzone (urban or rural), only had a phone for communication technology, or had limited locations/bandwidth when and where they could use the technology. I needed to incorporate numerous technology options for my students which meant I needed to learn how to use new technologies (when in fact I had limited time to learn these). 
  4.  Administration requirements (teacher autonomy): As it appeared that the crisis would last longer than just one or two weeks, there were multiple accounts and calls for insurance that there would be no "loss of learning" when learning remotely. Short term remote learning often has mechanisms within the educational structure to make up for short term interruptions in the educational process (extending the school year, adding instructional days or taking away vacation days, delaying standardized tests). But the educational system, especially in the US, has not been set up for remote learning that may require the reset of curriculums and evaluation systems.  I have seen very little discussion in the press and trade journals about new skills that would need to be identified and assessed due to the change in educational delivery (e.g. digital communication skills, self-regulated learning, technology/digital literacy). In addition, at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a rash of law suits claiming that online learning was less effective than face-to-face. There has been much in the literature about face to face vs. online learning and the consensus is that there are different results depending on level, instructional design, and other factors such as technology, age, and student type. However, since many schools still have faculty with little experience in online learning, administrators moved to standardize instruction, resulting in less teacher autonomy. In addition, assessment of student learning became more standard. In order to make online learning easier for novice online teaching instructors and students, many schools went to a standard template in which the instructional design was already developed and the teachers used that as a jumping off point. As more faculty become more technologically and educational technology pedagogically saave, this might change. But during long term crisis, the standardization of instruction means faculty have less choice, on one hand, but, on the other hand, less preparation requirements as new technology, curriculum, and assessment tools are introduced.


No doubt over the next few years, there will be in-depth analyses on lessons learned from the pandemic (hopefully). However, these lessons can result in preparing our educational systems and teachers for educating in times of crisis (war, natural disasters, pandemics).   We need to look at ways that the educational system can pivot quickly when needed, especially in terms of reassessing curriculum and assessment; providing students, administrators, teachers, and communities with tools during a crisis; and to quickly prepare teachers, instructional designers, students, and parents in new ways of learning dependent on the situation.


Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Resilience and Inclusion

 I'm back after a few years from blogging. Hopefully I will be able to restart my blog to a weekly post. But this weekend, I had 2 events/pieces of art that made me think of the current discussion of institutional racism and exclusion within our society, institutions, and politics. 

My friend and research collaborator, Dr. Marilyn Easter, has written a novel (Resilience: Bravery in the face of Racism, Corruption, and Privilege in the Halls of Academia). This is a piece of fiction based on her own experience in becoming the only African American full professor in the school of business at her university. The day after I finished reading Marilyn's book, I saw the film In the Heights, based on the community that Lin Manual Maranda grew up in. Both works have shared themes of inclusion and resilience when the social systems are stacked against the main characters. But more importantly, both show the importance of family, community, and key mentors/allies in confronting the barriers built by those in power. Power vs. Power-Less (In the Heights).  

In Resilience, Emma, the main character decides as a child that she wants to be a teacher. While those in a position of power found excuses to prevent her from being a teacher, key people in her life, like her mother, her husband, her daughter, mentors and acquaintances encouraged her to find a way around those barriers. Sometimes they would counsel her to give up the fight so she could achieve a victory down the road. But she always persevered, eventually becoming the teacher she always wanted to be. 

In the Heights, Nina is a college student at Stanford, living away from her family in New York City and the community in which she grew up. While at school, she feels excluded. At a school function, a professor assumes she is part of the wait staff. Her father, without even a high school education, sells his business to send her to school. He wants her to have the opportunities he never had. So if she fails, she feels as if she lets down her community and family as well as herself. But her father and community have an idealized notion of college. They don't have to deal with a complex political and social system that is academia for first generation students. Without help, first generation students get lost in the labyrinth of college.

Like Nina's story in In the Heights, Emma is always made to feel an outsider in Academia. She too has a parent who never received her high school diploma so Emma is on her own for navigating her education.  Throughout her life, people step up to give her advice, but she soon learns that she can't always trust those people who are supposed to know what they are talking about. Those that she can trust, just don't know how the system works because they live outside the power structure. 

Emma and Nina both are straddling two worlds and at times they feel they don't belong anywhere. But then, family and friends step in to make them realize that their place in the world is just where they are, with people that love them and believe in them.

In both works, structural racism is the most difficult to fight. The unwritten rules are stacked against them but it also makes it difficult to prove that racism is at the root. Emma's mother and Nina's father believe that their daughters "can do anything they want to" with the help of education. Both women are hard working, successful students, kind and well-liked, but it seems as if the rules for success were written to exclude them from the place they deserve in society because of their accomplishments. 

However, Emma and Nina never appear to be hopeless victims of discrimination. Emma surrounds herself with allies and fights back legally, publicly, and politically, working at changing the system so that her students, young colleagues, and daughter will not have to suffer from the system of exclusion (based on race, sexual identity, gender, or disability) she had to fight in academia. At the end of the film, Nina decides to stay in college and work in advocacy to represent those in her community. My only criticism with In the Heights was that Nina goes back to Stanford. I would have liked for her to go to Columbia just up the street from Washington Heights. Unlike Nina, Emma always finds an alternative path, even when she feels like giving up. She won't give into to those that want to keep her down. But also recognizes that at times, she needs help in fighting the fight. 

At the end of both of these works, there is not a "happily ever after" as much as hope for the future. This hope is for the generation that comes after them. Both Emma and Nina are living fulfilling lives which will always be a struggle, but with a supportive life outside of their struggles. They surround themselves with optimistic, supportive people, but also give as much as they receive. They focus on how much they have accomplished, the people in their life that lift them, and a sense of contentment with the decisions they have made in their life.

I would highly recommend reading Resilience. I read it in 3 days, wanting to know what would happen next (although after 30 years in academia, I was afraid I would know). In the Heights also left me with a happy feeling, especially after the community musical scenes. Both left me with the sense that community, love, and music makes everything in the world better.

Note: I feel the Resilience should be a must read for all first gen students, any BIPOC considering or already in graduate school, and anyone interested in mentoring BIPOC students.