Remote Teaching Reflections: Candice Belanoff

Posted on: April 23, 2020 Topics: covid-19, education, faculty, students

Hi! Candice Belanoff here. I am a clinical associate professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences.

So, what has this transition to remote teaching been like, you ask?

This semester, I’m teaching two courses and managing a cohort of graduating CAPDIE students completing their ILEs. The courses are Social Justice and the Health of Populations (MC775) and Assessment and Planning for Health Promotion (SB820). Both are highly interactive by design, and SB820 is a practice-based learning experience with a community partner involved.

Moving to remote teaching and learning has necessarily involved a lot of quick decisions—do we keep guest speakers? Can we still do “small group exercises” via Zoom? Can I expect from my students the same level of engagement with material and class discussions? How do we remotely manage our relationship with our community partner? Abruptly flipping a course to remote is a pretty different beast from thoughtfully planning an online course well in advance, on purpose. So far I’ve kept the classes as close to “normal” as I can—especially after conferring with students and asking them what they thought would work best. People crave stability in these times, I guess.

Probably the most important thing has been figuring out how to “be there” (from “here”) for students who are all varieties of stressed-out. A couple of my students are staff at local shelters and working under frustrating and unpredictable conditions. Others are back home taking care of parents who have symptoms of COVID-19. Yet others have lost work or aren’t sure where they’ll find it once they graduate in the spring. It’s painful to see students so exhausted and worried and not their usual energetic and optimistic selves.

For the past few weeks of Zoom classes, we’ve started with check-ins—about whatever’s going on for folks. One of the not-terrible aspects of this social-distancing-emergency has been a “de-formalization” of the classroom; a (perhaps ironic) lowering of personal boundaries in a sense. We’re all floating around in the same lifeboat together (six feet apart, of course) and there’s a newfound sense of commonality and solidarity. It’s also starkly apparent that folks are being affected by this crisis in wildly different ways, and we have been open about discussing that as well. For better or worse, COVID is terrific fodder for discussions of marginalization and privilege.

All in all, this has gone SO much better than I’d imagined (so far, anyway). I’ve witnessed remarkable resilience and flexibility across both of my classes. Students are showing up ready and willing as ever to dig into conversations from their far-flung locations. They have helped me troubleshoot Zoom. They’ve made sure to bring their dogs to class because they know I love them. They’ve arrived in pajamas and under throw blankets; Eating dinner, and with parents or siblings or roommates in the background. All good.

Aside from general student gameness making this easier, it’s also worth mentioning that I have the luxury of parenting a high school senior who cooks and requires little entertainment (from us, anyway). So I’m certain that were this 15 years ago and I was wrangling my pre-schooler, I’d be a bit less sanguine about it all. Aside from wondering whether college will open in the fall (pleeeeeease say yes) and pining for in-person colleague interactions, I’m so grateful I get to do my job, safely from home, relatively uninterrupted, and really only having to worry about what I’m wearing from the waist up. My many layers of privilege and good fortune are not lost on me. I hope everyone’s doing well out there. I miss you!

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