Covid-19 Teaching Silver Linings: Reflections to Keep Going
|Author: Jimena Perry, Teaching Assistant Professor at the History Department of East Carolina University.|
While it is true that Covid-19 has significantly altered the ways in which we teach and learn, it has also tested the commitment instructors must have and maintain with students. Struggling with finding creative and innovative ways to hold their attention, many professors are striving to improve their efforts to make their classrooms more inclusive and participative. Due to unexpected changes brought by the pandemic, students do not have it easy.
Taking advantage of the restricted interactions through a screen, professors have found ways to make their classes as engaging as possible. A silver lining of this way of communication is the hands-on approach many instructors adopted, including myself. Using the technology as a tool to facilitate discussions and activities with students has shown positive learning outcomes due to the involvement of the students in the projects and activities suggested by the instructor.
Online teaching not only has taught students how to do more independent research but also has offered the opportunity to promote professors’ creativity. For instance, using the incredibly rich and diverse number of databases and sources available online eases exploring research possibilities using adequate and significant sources, which can be visual, auditive, or a combination of both (15 Minute History; Slavery Images; LLILAS Benson Digital Collections; NCPH Project Directory; among many others). For example, an activity well received by my students was to create a podcast or blogpost from an interview they performed. They appreciated the possibility to learn interviewing skills and to process or curate their source in an appealing way to a general audience. However, online instruction has a downside too, such as not having the in-person interaction that allows us to read body and non-verbal language.
Another positive outcome of online instruction is that students and professors must learn to use the diverse array of tools technology provides. Getting to know and use some of the multiple apps and software developed to aid educators – such as Loom, Adobe Spark, Powtoon, just to just mention a few – are ways of learning to create appealing videos, podcasts, blog posts, and websites. They also help in developing skills students will most likely use in their future professional environments. This comes with new abilities as well. To create a blog post, for instance, requires a different set of abilities than writing a conventional paper. In addition, using technology has made us more practical and efficient in our language since we need to convey our messages in a direct and precise way. This exercise helps achieve clarity, necessary in any professional setting.
Last but not least, one favorable effect of online instruction, I believe, has been the popularity and strengthening of public history as a way to create and provide content for non-specialized audiences. As an instructor in this field, I insist in the relevance of making knowledge available to all kinds of public, going beyond academia. Covid-19, curiously enough, has provided the context to do so by requiring instructors, such as myself, to avoid the use of jargon, to think about diverse audiences, and to communicate in a more direct way. Time management, as well, has changed to allow students, supervised by the instructor, longer intervals to complete exercises, activities, and assignments. Along these lines, the attention span of audiences has shifted too, becoming shorter, which in turn had forced us to create contents of no more, or preferably less than 20 minutes for videos and podcasts.
Although we long for the face-to-face learning experience, perhaps this pandemic has shown us that we cannot take anything for granted and that our ways of being in the world can change abruptly. Covid-19 has also demonstrated us that we must adapt if we want to keep up with our time. I am a Teaching Assistant Professor, which means that my job is mostly to teach, and in my case, despite the drastic changes I had to make to my syllabi and class preparation, I feel that this experience has given more tools to address different kinds of students, with diverse interests. One of the major challenges I had was learning to communicate in an effective and concise way. I do not know if I have achieved a full proficiency in the matter because the process is ongoing, but I keep trying.
Jimena Perry is a Ph.D. in History from the University of Texas at Austin. Currently, she is a Teaching Assistant Professor at the History Department of East Carolina University. She also studied Anthropology at the Universidad de Los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia), has an MPhil in Social Anthropology with an emphasis in Museums from The University of Cambridge (UK), and an MA in History from the University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests are Latin America, memory, violence, cultural heritage, and public history. Her book manuscript titled Trying to Remember: Museums, Exhibitions, and Memories of Violence In Colombia, 2000-2014 explores how different communities remember and represent the atrocities they endured during the recent armed conflict in the country (1980-2000).