Teaching in this Present
Hi there. I hope you’re well. I mean it and I also know that “well” is a relative term these days. I’m really struggling and I know so many of us are. Parenting and educating small children, helping people who live alone, long-distance-managing elder care, losing friends/family, dealing with the regular losses of life without any of the usual support systems, trying to imagine the future of work for myself and for my staff, missing so many activities and people that I consider central to my happiness - it’s all a lot. A whole lot.
It feels both too small and too big to write and think about future teaching. At the same time, I’m regularly reminding myself that sitting with mess, staying with trouble, and caring for and about one another are all feminist technologies; ways of being here now and creating better futures. So I’m trying.
I don’t have a crystal ball or any special insight into our collective futures under both capitalism and COVID. Nevertheless, there are a lot of signs (Johns Hopkins, CDC, Statements from Higher Ed thread among others) that suggest we may well be in for a disrupted fall or more. While much uncertainty remains, this is a crucial moment to begin preparing mentally and logistically for the possibilities that may unfold in higher education in the fall. Given HASTAC's long history in critical digital pedagogy and online engagement, my colleagues and I are using this time to compile and share resources that may help others in any of the possible fall scenarios.
Here at Dartmouth, where we are on the quarter system, our summer term will be fully online and graded. At CUNY, institutional home to HASTAC partners including Cathy Davidson and Katina Rogers, summer school will also be online although there is not yet word on how long CUNY will retain its remarkable new assessment policy (which gives students twenty days after receiving their final grades to let the registrar know if they wish to convert to a Credit/No Credit grade instead).
While some signs point to a fall with remote teaching, we also see President Mitchell Daniels of Purdue University announcing that his campus will be back in session this fall, face to face. Daniels’ letter argues that he feels secure in this move because: “At least 80% of our population is made up of young people, say, 35 and under. All data to date tell us that the COVID-19 virus, while it transmits rapidly in this age group, poses close to zero lethal threat to them.” Meanwhile, scientists at the Stanford Prevention Research Center suggest in a new article that the under-65 mortality rate in the US is as high as 30%. Daniels’ data is questionable and so too is a set of decisions that seems to ignore young adults who are immunosuppressed or otherwise at higher risk, to say nothing of his apparent disregard for faculty, staff, administrators at Purdue and the extensive community of which Purdue is just a part.
Clearly we need some principles to help guide wise choices in this tumultuous, confusing, and dangerous time. We also need tools and resources to support teaching and learning in our new situations. Both FemTechNet and HASTAC have been thinking about feminist, anti-racist, and student- and human-centered ways of engaging in education for more than a decade. I have been extraordinarily fortunate to be a part of both communities. I don’t speak for either group - both of which feature decentralized and distributed activated networks. But I and my colleagues at HASTAC can act as a guide to some of what both groups have done to date around intentionally developed online education.
In the coming weeks, the HASTAC team will be adding to our collected resources and sharing here. So much ‘help’ and ‘advice’ is being offered these days that it may feel overwhelming. Feel free to use what seems useful and ignore the rest. We will try to design this resource to limit the overwhelm while also offering depth.
Above all, please be kind with yourselves and with others. We are all experiencing the trauma of a global pandemic. Many of us are also experiencing the differential burdens created by racism, classicism, ableism, sexism and the hegemony of the nuclear family. The long historical traumas of displacement, genocide, and imperialism are exacerbating the trauma of the pandemic worldwide.
We are committed to collectively working to find the best ways to teach responsibly in this present and to craft futures we want to inhabit.
Take good care of yourselves and one another,
Jacque Wernimont with Katina Rogers, Brinker Ferguson, and Cathy Davidson