On Burnout, On Rest: Pandemic Pedagogy

As a sick and disabled disability justice scholar, I have spent all year asking everyone to slow down. Luckily, many folks I work with understand the importance of what I am asking, even as we still have deadlines and timelines to hit. Others feel the pressure even more intensely: my Black and brown and Asian colleagues, more precarious workers at CUNY, colleagues on a tight tenure clock, scholars unable to find full-time work or any work at all. It feels like there is no time, not enough time.

It’s been a whole year since I last saw any of my colleagues in-person. People have had babies, gotten ill and become disabled, articulated their gender in new ways, graduated and defended dissertations, and moved away. All of this has happened without fanfare or celebration or gathering.

What hasn’t happened: collective mourning, solidarity with sick and disabled people, or ethical leadership in higher education.

2020 was tough on everyone. Even those of us privileged enough to be able to work from home without disrupting our finances too much, we have witnessed a lot of loss. Every day, friends of friends post about the passing of beloved parents, grandparents, disabled pals, frontline and essential workers. My own chronic illnesses have worsened dramatically during a year without medical care, and I have to spend a huge portion of my time resting and recovering, storing up energy for a few synchronous events a week. In between, I am lying down. I have learned the hard way that to ignore the rest my bodymind demands is to betray myself and my work; rest—challenging the voices that berate me for taking a break—is an essential piece of my access-focused pedagogies and methodologies. 

My closest friends and family are almost all fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Most of us are white, financially stable, employed, and hold at least Bachelor’s degrees. The story is not the same for CUNY students. Early figures don’t give a lot of information, but knowing that 85% of CUNY undergraduates are students of color paints a grim picture for their vaccination access. Many CUNY students work service jobs in retail, food service, and healthcare, and some are eligible through their jobs. And many Black and brown CUNY students have rightful hesitations about receiving brand-new medical procedures without a fuller picture of how the Covid vaccines may affect them long-term.

All of this is to say: this year has hardened a lot of us who work to educate and support student success. If before, faculty stringently enforced attendance policies, now we want proof of a positive Covid test to excuse an absence. Pictures of funeral programs, or a death certificate. More medical documentation for new disabilities emerging from post-Covid infection or medical neglect. The lack of care and compassion here is alarming. We absolutely must do better: learn to trust students and each other.

For me, working on my dissertation has been an elusive project. After four years of steady work on my dissertation, I have ground to a halt. My emotional capacity, necessary for my work in autoethnography, is near zero. I fill my time with applications for awards that I will never receive in an academic climate that fetishizes machine-like production that I can never even hope to emulate. I had *7* interviews in 2 weeks for 5th-year fellowships for my graduate program. I submit documentation to account for my slow timeline, while pre-Covid, I burned through doctoral coursework and exams with lightning speed. I am so tired, and I want nothing but a break.

As our patience wears thin, I invite all of us—but especially faculty—to slow down. Our breakneck pace to keep up with an invisible, always-moving goalpost will not protect us from pain, loss, and trauma. It definitely is not protecting our students, who have experienced incalculable devastation: economic crashes resulting in homelessness, food insecurity, mourning for a world they were promised that no longer exists.

From the former captain of Team Doing-Too-Much, I am asking you to please slow down. Rates of psychiatric illness (anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, panic) for higher education students and workers are spiking from previously record-setting highs, and we’re losing community members to suicide. Many folks who contracted Covid are now disabled by post-viral illness, and parents (mostly mothers) are profoundly burdened by lack of safe childcare. In disability justice communities, flexible deadlines, communicating openly about access needs, and extending gracious trust are central practices to building community and solidarity. I invite all of us to learn from the radical disabled people who center care and compassion in every relationship. Try to rest: sit and chat with a loved one without checking emails in the background; try out a video game you’re curious about and just be terrible at it for a while; share a meal over video call with your best friend.  Your bodymind, your spirit, will thank you.

With the semester underway

Today we are launching Swipp Email Insights so we are doing pretty good!! What about you guys? #new #email #marketing #customers #solution #happywednesday
Photo by Getswipp

We’re two weeks in to the Spring 2021 semester. Each semester so far has been so different, with Spring 2020 allowing for faculty and students to get to know each other and the courses before the switch to remote, and Fall 2020 imposing the obstacle of starting the semester without any in-person experience for the vast majority of courses.

What’s different about Spring 2021? We’re hopefully learning more and finding ways to foster teaching and learning using digital tools, kindness, and patience. But we’ve also used up much or most of our energy reserves.

With all of this in mind, we want to ask:

How are you doing?

What support do you need?

What’s something that’s working that you can share as inspiration?

No pressure to share, but if you want to, please feel free to share some thoughts in the comments here.

Spring 2021 Support

Jane from Central New York, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The OpenLab team is here to help you through this semester! Here are a few of our resources to help you through:

The Open Road offers OpenLab news, the full archive of what we’ve spotlighted, our support schedule for open hours and one-on-one appointments, information about how to request a workshop, and a link out to OpenLab screencasts.

Two really helpful modules, Teaching with the OpenLab, and The OpenLab for Students, can help instructors and students get asynchronous support for teaching and learning on the OpenLab.

Our email support offers anyone the opportunity to write in to get help with a specific question.

Finally, we hope you find a little comfort with our Comforting Content for COVID Coping. Sometimes we tweet comforting images or video from our Twitter account, @CityTechOpenLab, using the #ComfortingContent hashtag.

Is there topic in open pedagogy you’d like to see us address here on Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab? Let us know here in the comments or by getting in touch directly!

The OpenLab at CUNY IT 2020

Last week, the OpenLab team presented a panel at the 19th Annual CUNY IT Conference. The theme of the conference was “The Next or New Normal?” and in our panel, we discussed some of the initiatives we’ve started since last spring to support City Tech’s faculty, staff, and students during remote learning.

These initiatives include:

  • A new course template designed for remote learning
  • Model courses and/or course hubs for classes in Communication Design, First Year Writing, and Mathematics
  • Self-paced OpenLab training modules for both faculty and students
  • Short OpenLab skills screencasts
  • Setting up a system for online real-time support (office hours and 1:1 appointments with the digital pedagogy fellows)

Check out our slides below!

Click on the image to view our slideshow!

Many members of our team participated in the panel, including OpenLab Co-Directors Jody R. Rosen, M. Genevieve Hitchings, Charlie Edwards, and Jonas Reitz, Senior Instructional Technologist Bree Zuckerman, and Digital Pedagogy Fellow Olivia Wood.

CUNY CUE Conference & OER Showcase

On October 29-30, teachers and researchers from around CUNY came together online for the annual Coordinated Undergraduate Education Conference, this year coupled with the annual Open Educational Resources Showcase. Keynotes from Dr. Robin DeRosa and Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani highlighted issues of equity, access, and open pedagogy for staff and faculty working with OERs at CUNY, and participants shared many resources and ideas between campuses and projects.

The OpenLab team presented on two panels to highlight our ongoing work around access and accessibility in open digital pedagogy. The first panel focused on reflecting on our Open Pedagogy discussion series on the many aspects of access and accessibility in open digital pedagogy from 2019-2020, and Digital Pedagogy Fellow Olivia Wood wrote a great recap of this panel.

The slides for this panel are linked below!

Title slide of Access, OER, and Open Pedagogy on the OpenLab presentation
Click image to view slideshow


The second panel, facilitated by Cailean Cooney, OER Coordinator at City Tech, and Elvis Bakaitis, Adjunct Reference Librarian, highlighted discussion between former OER faculty fellows Prof. Colleen Birchett (English) and Prof. Christopher Swift (Humanities), who shared their work developed during and since their OER Fellowship, and OpenLab Digital Pedagogy Fellow Jesse Rice-Evans (me!) who talked about access and OERs beyond zero-textbook-cost courses.

Prof. Birchett shared her OER site from her summer 2019 course “Home Away from Home: Stories from the Diaspora,” an ENGL 2001: Introduction to Literature (Fiction) course, and discussed how she incorporated OER materials and open pedagogy into her course

Prof. Swift discussed his OER site, THE 2280, “History of Theatre,” which uses mapping software and place-based pedagogies to explore the role of New York City theaters with students through the NYC Theater Research Project. He brought up some of the difficulties of place-based learning during distance learning.

I felt it was important to contextualize the choices that faculty and staff make in creating and using OERs to address some issues of inequity in higher education. To address this, I shared selections from my piece “Open Access Pedagogy: A Manifesto,” which is published in full on the Anti-Ableist Composition Collective site.

I pose a politicization of open access that centers the lived experiences of people doing the teaching and learning. The scholars I am centering here (see bibliography) are speaking to a widespread practice of centering access pedagogy—pedagogy that is culturally responsive, flexible, and reimagines “rigor” as intellectual curiosity, critical rhetorical skill-building, and an embrace of non-normative English.

All participants highlighted how OERs and open pedagogy have influenced their teaching, learning, and research. View the slides below!

Title slide from presentation on Open Pedagogy and OERs in the Classroom at City Tech
Click image to view slideshow

Open Pedagogy Recap: OpenLab at the CUE/OER Showcase!

On Friday, October 30, the OpenLab team along with City Tech librarian Cailean Cooney hosted a digital workshop as part of the 2020 CUE Conference and CUNY OER Showcase.

This conference was originally planned for March 2020, but was rescheduled due to the pandemic. Because so much about our teaching and learning environment has changed since then, we adapted our February Open Pedagogy session to talk with folks about access and accessibility in our current circumstances.

Below are our discussion questions- talked through together via Google Docs instead of on chart paper!- and some highlights from participant comments.

1. What connotations do you have with the word “accommodation”?

people shouldn’t be “accommodated for,’ but instead design should consider the full range of human experience / abilities / dispositions”

“an accommodation is a place to stay…it’s a place at least comfortable, ideally welcoming and friendly, for all of us.”

Requires medical documentation, submission to disability office, approval and recommended “reasonable accommodation” for traditional learning styles”

Flexibility, willingness to make things easier and accessible.”

2. How do OERs help us address equity and access? What does the platform you use to share open course materials with students have to do with access? 

if students can’t get to materials from their available devices, this is a huge barrier to entry! mobile/tablet access is how many CUNY students (and honestly fac/staff) use the web!”

The platform is critical and should not be a secondary consideration. Using proprietary platforms to share open content is (IMO) problematic, and is a reason I’m happy that open solutions like openlab exist.”

Our LMS on campus simply can’t be used on a mobile phone even though the vast majority of my students are using mobile phones”

3. How does our current sociocultural situation affect how we think about access in higher education? What new questions or concerns have come up around using technology to facilitate access?

Access to … food, health care, child care, technology, space to work– it’s all part of the mix. We have to think of “access” in this much larger context.”

I’m thinking much more about how to take time into account in course design, course expectations for students, and for faculty. For instance, the time it will take to do required readings?”

I’ve most of all been thinking about how to make my sites accessible to those with poor internet access. Post-COVID, I realize that I need to redesign sites checking for bandwidth, loadability. I tested my sites with Google Page Speed, and although they seem fast on my internet, they clearly are not easily loadable.

I’ve been using more radical course policies than I have been brave enough to try in the past. I don’t want to go back, even after the pandemic. The current situation is just a more heightened/visible version of a situation that totally already existed.”

FLEXIBLE DUE DATES”

The technology needs to be taught, not just assume everyone knows how.”

4. What are some current strategies you have, or would like to try, to make course content accessible / useful / usable to all students, with shifting and complex needs?

Reflection-based grading: students respond to their own work from a reflective perspective, analyze what they struggled with and did great at, and assign themselves grades based on their work towards each project in the first-year writing/whatever course. (Read Jesse Stommel on ungrading!)”

Check-ins with students”

Lastly, some resources that might be useful in considering accessibility strategies:

May 8 Event: Disability Justice and COVID-19

Hi OpenLab pals! Sending all of you tenacity and compassion in these trying times.  

I’m sharing this upcoming event here on Open Pedagogy for a few reasons:  

This event is run by and features Black disability justice leaders, including Dorian Taylor, Elandria Williams, Lateef Mcleod, and Leroy Moore Jr., in a time when many disability organizations center white organizers over BIPOC activists. Listening to Black and brown disability activists is crucially important for us as members of the CUNY community, as COVID-19 is disproportionately harming Black and brown New Yorkers, many of whom also work and study at CUNY.  

The organizers of this digital event have also included ample details about accessibility, including information about interpretation services, breaks, and descriptive alt text for their chosen images. This level of detail is crucial when planning accessible events, and must be a central aspect of coordinating remote and online events!  

From the organizers:  

We’re hosting this webinar to offer the perspective of people grounded in #DisabilityJustice work as we all respond to COVID-19.  

ASL interpretation and live captions will be provided. We will also have breaks.  

Register at: https://bit.ly/djgrounding

What’s working?

 

cheering panda saying yay!
“yay! panda” by Rakka, via Flickr

With the end of the semester is in sight, but before we all scatter to our virtual summer spaces, the OpenLab team wants to hear from you about what worked in this distance-learning semester. What’s something that you found useful, that you want to keep in the upcoming online Summer or Fall semester? What’s something that you have incorporated into your pedagogy that you’ll continue to do–or not do–into the foreseeable future? Leave a comment–short or longer–to share your brilliance with the OpenLab community.

Does this make you think about what’s not working? Save that thought and add it to the What’s not working? conversation instead.

If you have ideas that you want more help with, either from a pedagogical angle or a technical one, please check out our expanded Help materials, contact our team via email (OpenLab@citytech.cuny.edu) or contact form, or participate in our virtual office hours.

Yay for all!

What’s not working?

orange lit sphere on black background
“Spinning” by Miranda Wood, via Flickr

With the end of the semester is in sight, but before we all scatter to our virtual summer spaces, the OpenLab team wants to hear from you about what didn’t work so well this semester. Maybe you realized something that works so well in person doesn’t convert so well in this distance education context. Maybe a new tool doesn’t work the way you need it to. Maybe you see things clearly now, or can’t puzzle out what didn’t work. Share a thought in the comments–as long or as short as you want–to add a voice to our conversation about what needs improvement, rethinking, or what we need to drop altogether–or be sure not to drop again.

Have something that worked really well? Share in in the What’s working conversation instead!

If you have ideas that you want more help with, either from a pedagogical angle or a technical one, please check out our expanded Help materials, contact our team via email (OpenLab@citytech.cuny.edu) or contact form, or participate in our virtual office hours.

Don’t forget–there are places to publish your teaching fails. Your comment here could be the start of something very productive for an even larger audience!

How I Work: Distance Learning Edition

Cat and human using a computer mouse together.

Due to COVID-19, City Tech (and all of CUNY) shifted its in-person classes to online, distance learning instruction. In this post, I reflect on my current class’s transition to distance learning, show how I have configured my office and computer for screencasting and video conferencing, describe some software and services that support distance learning, and give instructions for uploading a video to YouTube.

My Transition to Distance Learning

For my current Science Fiction (ENG2420) class, this was not too much of a disruption, because I was already leveraging online technologies to support student learning and course material accessibility. I designed the course as a zero textbook cost class, meaning I find resources that I can make available to students via PDFs and handouts, and choose readings that are available freely online, such as the unparalleled Archive.org.

Also, I redesigned some of the course assignments to emphasize the importance of note taking by teaching good note taking practices and evaluating students on the quality of their notes. To support this, I recorded each lecture during our earlier in-person classes and posted them on YouTube after class ended, so that students could use the videos to fill in gaps in their notes and allow those students who missed a class to make their own notes based on the video lectures.

I collect student work via email and on OpenLab, “an open-source, digital platform designed to support teaching and learning at City Tech (New York City College of Technology), and to promote student and faculty engagement in the intellectual and social life of the college community.” I joined the OpenLab team as a co-director of the project this year, but I have been using OpenLab in all of my classes since joining City Tech in 2014.

Now with classes meeting asynchronously online, I have tweaked assignments and the schedule to accommodate students accessing materials and completing their assignments. I hold office hours once a week at a regularly scheduled time via Google Hangouts, and I can hold private office hours by appointment with students. I use email to respond to questions and concerns on a daily basis.

Now that I have reconfigured a space in my apartment to support my class and the many other online meeting responsibilities that I have with OpenLab and other projects, I wanted to share some tips and ideas to help others transitioning to facilitating their classes with distance learning.

Office Configuration

I know how easily distracted I am by busy backgrounds, I wanted to provide as neutral a space for my lectures and online meetings. To this end, I appropriated my apartment’s closet as a distance learning and video conferencing studio.

Computer desk with monitor, webcam, lamp, and chair. The desk is 2 feet away from the wall.

I positioned the Logitech C615 webcam so that I am centered in the frame when video conferencing or recording myself lecture. Above the camera, I positioned a white light to illuminate my face.

Looking over the monitor towards the wall.

I arranged the desk so that my back would be against a solid white wall as pictured above looking from behind my monitor towards where I would be sitting facing the monitor and webcam.

Webcam with carboard flap taped above it to reduce light glare.

Notice that I taped a small piece of cardboard above the webcam. This blocks glare on the camera lens from the light above that illuminates my face. I was careful to cut and position it so that it is out of frame of the camera lens. Depending on your webcam, be careful not to cover the microphone if you build a similar lens shade.

Two lamps--one lights the subject and the other lights the background.

To the side of my desk, I have a larger lamp that points against the wall and behind me. This reduces my shadow from the desk lamp in front of me.

The end result looks like this:

An example image taken by the webcam of Jason.

Software and Online Services for Distance Learning

As mentioned above, I use email and the OpenLab for interacting with students, disseminating materials, and collecting student work. And, I am using Google Hangouts for regular office hours since it is a far easier lift for students than official CUNY supported video platforms like Skype and WebEx.

To create my class lectures, I do the following things.

Google Slides example.

First, I create a presentation slide deck using Slides in Google Docs.

Screenshot of OBS Studio capturing the desktop.

While presenting my slides in full screen mode, I use OBS Studio, a “free and open source software for video recording and live streaming” that supports Windows, Mac, and Linux, to record a video of my desktop (the Slides presentation) and my webcam video and audio in a smaller picture-in-picture that positioned in the lower right corner of the screen, which produces a video like my recent lecture embedded below.

Before I can post the video to YouTube, I like to edit it (though, editing isn’t absolutely necessary). I like to use Shotcut, a “a free, open source, cross-platform video editor.” After trimming the video, I then upload it to YouTube, get the video’s sharable link, and embed the video with the link in my class’ OpenLab site.

OBS Studio and Shotcut have steep learning curves, but each have extensive online documentation and there are communities of users online who share tips and advice about how to setup and use these powerful tools.

There are many other options for working with video. On Mac OS X, one can use Quicktime Player to record a screencast or iMovie to create something more advanced. On Windows 10, the built-in Xbox Game Bar can be used for creating a screencast movie. Also, there are commercial solutions, such as Screencast-o-Matic.

In some cases, you might not even need a computer. iPhones with iOS and Android phones can use video recording software that’s built-in or with an app to record and edit video, and there’s a YouTube app for both platforms that you can use for uploading the resulting video.

In the next section, I will show you step-by-step instructions for uploading a video made on a computer to YouTube.

Uploading a Video to YouTube

Once you have a video ready to share with students, the following step-by-step guide for uploading your video to YouTube shows you how to upload and share a link to your video.

First, navigate to YouTube.com and login to your account. Then, click on the camera icon in the upper right corner and then click "Upload Video."

First, navigate to YouTube.com and login to your account. Then, click on the camera icon in the upper right corner and then click “Upload Video.”

Second, drag-and-drop your video from your computer into the center of the window that opens, or click on "Select File" to navigate to and select your video file on your computer.

Second, drag-and-drop your video from your computer into the center of the window that opens, or click on “Select File” to navigate to and select your video file on your computer.

Third, while your video is uploading and processing (updates are shown along the bottom edge of this window shown above), fill out the Title and Description boxes and choose a thumbnail for how the video will initially display before the play button is pressed. Then, scroll down the window.

Third, while your video is uploading and processing (updates are shown along the bottom edge of this window shown above), fill out the Title and Description boxes and choose a thumbnail for how the video will initially display before the play button is pressed. Then, scroll down the window.

To comply with the COPPA law, select if your video is for kids or not. Then, click Next in the lower right hand corner.

To comply with the COPPA law, select if your video is for kids or not. Then, click Next in the lower right hand corner.

Fourth, you can skip the options on the Video Elements screen and click Next in the lower right corner.

Fourth, you can skip the options on the Video Elements screen and click Next in the lower right corner.

Fifth, select the Visibility option for your video. The most versatile choices are Public (this is what I choose) and Unlisted. In these cases, you will have a sharable video link that you can send via email or easily embed in a webpage. Private is also an option, but you have to choose who is permitted to see the video, which requires students having a Google account and you knowing those accounts to grant permission to each one. After making your selection, click Publish in the lower right corner.

Fifth, select the Visibility option for your video. The most versatile choices are Public (this is what I choose) and Unlisted. In these cases, you will have a sharable video link that you can send via email or easily embed in a webpage. Private is also an option, but you have to choose who is permitted to see the video, which requires students having a Google account and you knowing those accounts to grant permission to each one. After making your selection, click Publish in the lower right corner.

Finally, highlight and copy the video link on the resulting screen, or click on the copy icon on the right to automatically copy the video link to the Clipboard. Click "Close" on the lower right to return to your list of videos on YouTube. With the link on your Clipboard, you can go to email, OpenLab, or another platform to paste and share the video link with your students.

Finally, highlight and copy the video link on the resulting screen, or click on the copy icon on the right to automatically copy the video link to the Clipboard. Click “Close” on the lower right to return to your list of videos on YouTube. With the link on your Clipboard, you can go to email, OpenLab, or another platform to paste and share the video link with your students.

On OpenLab and WordPress-based sites, pasting the link into a post or page will automatically embed the video so that students can simply navigate to your class site and watch the video on the class site instead of going over to YouTube as an additional step.

If you’re working on transitioning your classes to distance learning, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and frustrated like Miao Miao below. Just don’t give up. We’re doing good work for our students, and it takes time to think through and implement distance learning. Also, it’s okay to let your students know that this is a work-in-progress and things might change based on what works and what doesn’t.

A cat collapsed from overwork and anxiety onto the pages of an open book.

  This post originally appeared on Jason’s teaching and research blog here.