Of Continuity, Inclusion, and Productivity: Pedagogy in the Time of Contagion

Golly where to begin. Well I am sitting in my kitchen writing this, day 2 of self-isolation, with another week to go as I just returned from NeMLA last Sunday and we have been asked by the medical officer of Toronto to self-isolate for 14 days after our return from another country, asymptomatic or not. Being the proactive person that I am, I am well set up to be at home for another week or so, my only real concern is the Internet bandwidth that I need to do the support and work I have to do at the moment.

And I guess that takes me to point one of this post which is for the past few days I have been supporting faculty and friends in higher ed to think about the remainder of the semester in terms of delivery, content, activities, and assessments. There are a lot of great suggestions being shared on Twitter, via email, via LMS and all of it is very inspiring and suggests that folk are ready to be creative in their approach to something that is unprecedented. However, there are two aspects to all of this that I am seeing being forgotten in all the transition: 1. thinking of the pedagogy before the technology and 2. thinking of access and inclusion of pedagogical choices.   

The first part of thinking about teaching in a different modality is to assess what student learning outcomes have already been met and evaluated and then look at the gaps. What assessments are left on your syllabus and what other modalities or options can be used? This is where UDL thinking and your educational developer, instructional designer, or instructional tech team can help with support. If you are unsure, reach out, the resources are usually there to assist you. If they are not, reach out to me, I do not care if you are not at my institution, we are all in this together.

This leads to the second thing often forgotten which is access and inclusion. There is no expectation that what you will do in the face of this change will be perfect. Even those who have done online teaching and learning for many years, like myself, don’t get it perfect. Like learning, it’s a process. However, it would be really great if folk thought of their options in terms of access. Does the video software you want folk to use and create recordings from have captioning ability? Do you know for sure that all your students have a computer or Internet at home? How much bandwidith does this solution require? What are the privacy concerns? So to help with thinking of this I am providing a list below of things you should think about (not an exhaustive list) when suggesting an option in order for it to be inclusive and accessible.
  • Captions for any video (or live stream lecture)
  • Alt-text for any images posted
  • Size of the file you are asking students to download or upload
  • Look at how the content you are sharing will be seen on a mobile device (are bits cut off)
  • Technological requirements should be in the realm of what students can access through institutional login (no asking students to create another account if you can help it, even if the app is free)
  • Where is the information being stored (ask your instructional tech folk for help with this if you are unsure)
  • Non-technological options if no computer, smart phone, or Internet is available for a student (some students are returning to rural or international places without access to the same websites)
  • Make as much as you can asynchronous, time and schedules kind of mean nothing in a pandemic

Again this is not exhaustive (and I am happy to add things here if you have suggestions), but if you are thinking of these 8 things you are on a good track. 

So this kind of leads to point two of this post which another idea that is being lost in all of the discussion about continuity. All of this work to switch modality assumes that one will be able to maintain the same productivity and schedule as before. It’s sort of a business as usual mentality that ignores that fact that people are getting sick, folk now have unexpected child and family care to think of, financial structures are being disrupted so maybe paying rent and finding food is going to be a lot more important than a psychology assignment. We aren’t robots, as much as we would like to be, or as some folk would like us to be. Keep that in mind as you are making your asks of your students but also of yourselves. 

Take time for yourself; take time for your loved ones. Remember that you are human. Wash your hands (suggestion the first verse of Safety Dance is 20 seconds), eat something if you can, check in on your people,  wash your hands again (French suggestion the refrain of Retour a La Terre is 20 seconds), take a nap if you can or simply rest your eyes for a bit, and then wash your hands another time (Italian suggestion, the refrain of L’Italiano is 30 seconds so you make sure you are really clean as your Nonni intended). Notice all these videos don’t have captions and how shitty is that really. So here are the lyrics: Safety Dance, Retour a la Terre, L’italiano (see how access can happen in different ways, it's not AODA compliant but it has provided an alternate means to access the information I am suggesting).  Remember you are not alone and even if we are self-isolating, or in quarantine there are many ways to interact with the world around you. So reach out, just not physically.


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