But, we’ve come so far!

Over the first two weeks of this semester, I had several engaging conversations with my colleagues about yet another semester of pandemic teaching, and the longing for a return to normal. Certainly, this is a view many people share – in and out of our university and community – and with good spirit. We are less than two months from the two-year mark from the moment that sense of normal was upended and sent us nervously on to Zoom, discussions on D2L, and for the adventurous, other instructional technologies like Perusall, Flipgrid, and Google Jamboard.

In these conversations, I could not help interjecting with statements like, “but we’ve come so far” or ask a question like, “but what will I do with all of the content I have created online?” I offer these not just as the Director of Faculty Development and Innovation, but as someone who, in March of 2020, was firmly in the “I’ll never teach online” crowd. Honestly.

If nothing else, we have demonstrated just how committed we are to our teaching, to our students, to our disciplines, that we shook-off our rigidity and cultivated our flexibility. Even with the start to this term and the elective temporary hybrid approach, all we have done – all we have built – over the past 20 months made this a speedbump, not a roadblock.

In each of these conversations, some with individuals and some within committees, there was no conclusion on what the next pivot could be, or regression to Fall 2019, or how to move forward with all our flexibility and content and tools we amassed in order to teach our students.

But what if that is the answer? What if we keep evolving, progressing, innovating, and creating and re-creating as we define what is next? We have done so much work, why let that go and dust off our hand-written lecture notes?

I think about these questions daily – not only in this role leading your FDIC, but as an educator and professor. I admittedly do keep my lecture notes in a Microsoft Word file, updating them each semester, but now that does not seem good enough, especially as my students have all embraced flexible approaches to teaching and learning. So, I decided to meet them where they are now, in this moment, by reinventing my statistics course into a hybrid active learning classroom experience. I get to use the library of “how-to” videos I created over the past 2 years, and my students get a go-to source online to develop their skills in statistical analysis. Now lab projects are more active and engaged and provide space for discussion in our face-to-face sessions.

I know I am not alone; I have also learned of our colleagues revisioning normal with podcasts (including student-created projects), virtual reality platforms, graphic novels, phone apps, e-textbooks, and so many more. We have the opportunities, and the forced experience, to take our teaching forward. I know not everyone will see it from this perspective – and that is okay. But I am optimistic as we approach the two-year anniversary of pandemic teaching; I am encouraged and empowered, and I hope you find a way to be as well. You’ve worked hard to get to this point, and I know you and your students can benefit from how far we all have come. I hope you do appreciate that – an use it as we continue to evolve.

Grace, too

I write just three days out from submitting grades for the Spring 2021 semester – the end to an incredible 15 months of teaching and learning. And for the first time since March 2020, I returned to campus. I am now fully engaged in this transition to my role as director of faculty development and contemplating this very moment – this very opportunity.

Since my last dispatch, I have been blogging on the center’s internal blog about end-of-semester engagement techniques, the promotion of the center’s summer activities, and tips on rethinking assessments. I have spent the last few months co-facilitating a virtual, but wildly rewarding, mentoring program for new faculty and instructors, as well working along-side the outgoing to director to absorb as much of their wisdom and experience.

I also chair the advisory body to our Center, and in closing the term I was entrusted to make some big moves – including re-envisioning and re-writing the only grant program offered through the Center to promote faculty partnerships in teaching and learning.

And there was teaching happening, too.

Yet throughout all of this – managed from my kitchen counter due to the pandemic displacements – there has been this laser-like focus on the future – both for me as director and the Center itself. This was by far my most challenging and difficult year in higher education – even more than in 2010, my first year on faculty teaching all new preps and living 7 hours away from my life partner.

But it was also an empowering semester. I learned so much about myself, about my teaching, about the resilience of students, and the contributions and areas of growth of myself and my peers. I am doing everything I can to remember those moments because, to me, they scream of grace. Grace for my students, grace for my peers, grace for my supervisors, and grace for myself.

Nothing was perfect about this pandemic in high education; no one ordered it up, and no one crushed it in their response – I know I did not! But the question is now how do we move on from here? How do we use these semesters and their layered teachable moments, and move forward (and move up) from here? Here is asking that I (we) newly develop with grace.