“God is dead. Marx is dead. And I don’t feel so well myself”
I wanted to write an incredibly informative&smart piece on how to successfully teach online, but truth is, I have been trying Canvas and Teams and Zoom for three weeks and only yesterday I managed to blur my background so my partner doesn’t have to crawl on the floor when he needs to enter the room. So I decided to share some reflections from the quarantine instead.
I can hear you all scream, “How original!”
I know that not everybody wants to read YET ANOTHER blog post on COVID-19, but that’s pretty much my reality so the only thing I can promise is that I’ll try to maintain a sense of humor (which, during a pandemic, is the best quality a person can possess). Extra bonus, some funny memes, mostly from my favorite Facebook page at the moment.
So that’s what I learned so far:
- If writing looks like a quarantine, maybe we’re doing it wrong. I saw a lot of posts from academics celebrating this moment of being home writing. Well, I do confess some aspects of my quarantine look like when I was writing my book- a lot of time at home, going out only for grocery shopping or exercise, many evenings with Netflix. BUT that time my family wasn’t in the most infected area of the planet and I didn’t have the constant urge to check the news every 5 minutes in panic. That time I could go whenever I wanted and staying home was a precise choice because I wanted to focus on something I liked doing. I enjoyed writing my book, I don’t enjoy being in the middle of a pandemic. If your writing time feels like a pandemic, I will not judge you, but you might want to ask yourself a couple of questions.
- Academia never was a meritocracy where everybody is equal. When the world was slowly starting to go on fire, Academic Twitter was engaged in an important debate: people without children celebrating productivity and people with children lamenting lack thereof. Then people without children but with anxieties/health conditions/other issues jumped in saying they also aren’t productive during a pandemic. It seems to me that COVID19 is amplifying what we all already knew: having children in academia isn’t easy; having mental/physical health problems in academia isn’t easy; being a person who doesn’t work 24/7 in academia isn’t easy. If we continue to celebrate productivity and quantity (you need TWELVE articles for your habilitation; you send TEN papers for this interview; you give us one-hundred pages and a blood sample and a lock of hair of your grandmother for this job; etc etc), of course there will be someone left behind. You need time and quiet and a general state of well being to do research and write, and now we see more than ever that not everybody has those things. Which leads to my next points.
- Perhaps we should learn to take our time off from academia. Are you discovering you love to crochet, or binge-watching trash TV shows, or embalm rats? Well, perhaps this shouldn’t be just a quarantine thing, but a thing you do in your life. We all need to work because this seems what capitalism wants from us, but long ago we got the right to NOT WORK on evenings and weekends. It is ok to say “I want to do something which is NOT writing a paper explaining how ducks socialize in parks with dogs during moonlight from a Foucauldian perspective”. And it’s also Ok to admit we need time off sometimes. Even if I’m not the biggest fan of pandemics (who would have guessed?) there’s some learning lesson I find here: it’s ok to not be ok sometimes. Before COVID, I had moments where I wanted to slow down my productivity and I had very good reasons for it. But they were my own personal reasons and I didn’t want to seem whiny so I just decided to ignore my problems and be productive anyway. Now, for the first time, I realize EVERYBODY is affected, and I could finally write an email to someone saying: “I have a hard time concentrating these days”. It felt important.
- Teaching online IS time-consuming. I see so many online contents about how to crochet or embalm rats to avoid being bored during quarantine. To tell the truth, I’d love to spend this pandemic making hair masks with eggs, banana and oil and then bake a cake with the same exact ingredients. But I don’t have that much free time. Online classes in my case are shorter, but I spent an entire week trying to figure out how to create groups on Canvas Conference, making my working space clean and presentable, and answering emails of students (very rightfully) concerned that Panopto would constantly spy in their lives. Add to that the endless Teams meeting with colleagues trying to figure out how to do exams online AND somehow still meet all the precious and valuable and unchangeable learning objectives established in a pre-pandemic time. I am sleeping 12 hours per night and somehow I still feel exhausted in the morning.
- We don’t need to go to all these conferences. And I am not saying this because I am a socially awkward person who can never get out of a boring conversation with a mansplainer during a coffee break. I’m not even saying this because I had accepted to do a 45 minutes talk in French and last time I did a talk in French was – *checking* – never. I genuinely love conferences and I find them very inspiring. I see some of my best friends only at conferences because they live on the other side of the globe. I have spent the last six months looking every morning at this website getting excited for my first keynote, which I’m not sure I’ll ever deliver. But in ten years we’ll have palms in Amsterdam and papayas in Oslo and we don’t really need to fly 12 hours and pollute the world to present a lousy powerpoint we prepared during these precise 12 hours and meet for 5 minutes a drunk academic who “is such a big name in the field.” And again, academia was never meant to be a meritocracy and ALWAYS people with children/diseases/limited funding were prevented from going to conferences. Now, we’ll finally ALL experience that FOMO of not going to AAR.
- You can actually read articles. “But how am I supposed to keep myself updated about the latest research, if I’m not going to conferences?” I can hear you screaming. So, there’s this great thing which is called reading articles. It is sort of pointless to go to sixteen conferences per year which are all in hotel resorts in Palma de Mallorca or Rio de Janeiro AND then complain you have zero time to read your colleagues’ work. Stop being the person with articles piling up on your desk and start reading them. Perhaps you’ll end up quoting something based on its actual content and not just the abstract in Zotero. Maybe you’ll also start hiring and do projects with people based on their research and not the networking done while listening to the Children Folk Choir of Ashgabat during conference dinner. And, if you desperately want to engage with other academics because you cannot really relate to normal human beings, you can always spend all your free time on Twitter.
- Students are great. I always suspected my students were great (despite them liking trap music), but now I am pretty sure of it. I had 100% attendance in online classes with students stuck in quarantine camps or bedridden with COVID who still managed to connect and participate. I suspect not many of us professors and lecturers would have been able to travel across the world at 18 yo and being stuck alone in a foreign random airport and still somehow finding the mental strength to do a mind map assignment. So, perhaps we shouldn’t focus on how to prevent students from cheating on their paper, but check on them and make sure all is going ok. It felt very pointless to continue teaching in a moment like this, until all my students once turned the camera on and made the “heart” sign with their hands, and I understood that no faulty Internet connection or Zoom bombing will prevent me from doing this.
These are my pearls of wisdom. In addition, of course, we all learned that we only need to dress properly from the waist up, and that we can pretty much survive without shoes.
With this, I hope you are all well and safe and can’t wait to hug everybody when this pandemic is over.