Resilience

Fun for the Grown Ups at Home

I’ve seen lots of posts about how to engage the kids while we are all in quasi lock-down, but what about the grown-ups? We empty-nesters, not-yet-nesters, or never-nesters deserve some fun, too.  Here’s one for all of you. Consider spending 30 minutes a day on these. It might calm the mind and you could learn a thing or two for the next trivia night.

Mathematical Mondays

You know you want to be better at math, and is it turns out, all it takes is a little free time.  I’m working statistics to better understand the path of COVID-19, but algebra and geometry are pretty great for planning the home renovations you are dreaming of now that you’re cooped up all the time.

Here’s a link to Khan Academy, but there are hundreds of options.

Sharpen those pencils.

Time Hop Tuesdays    

How the heck did we get here? That is the fundamental question for an amateur historian (apologies to the professionals). Whether you want to know when something happened or get a basic understanding of the implications/origins of important historical events, now is the time to look it up and do a little reading. Believe it or not, Wikipedia is an OK place to start. Just remember to follow their resource links to get a bigger picture.

Wildlife Wednesdays

I am the queen of “that’s a pretty bird/plant/tree” with no idea what I’m looking at. Are you curious about the natural world, but never really bother to check things out?  Now’s your chance.  Bonus points for taking a walk outside (with appropriate distance) to identify some of those birds, squirrels, trees, and plans.

Here are two sites to get you started, but really there are a million.

Theological Thursdays 

I always meant to take a comparative religion class, but it never seemed to fit into my schedule.  Instead of committing to an entire course or degree, I’m going to start with just learning a little about everyone’s faith.  Think how that could bring us together!

Fact Check Fridays      

Today is the day to test your knowledge.  Pick one news story and do your own research.  There is no such thing as a bias-free report, but there are reports that are better researched and sourced than others.  So, I recommend you choose a source you tend to trust and work from there.

Or you could simply start on by picking a news story you just read and then ask yourself what else you would need to know to believe it.  Then dig in to find out. Consider this activity an inoculation against nonsense.

Science Saturdays       

You did wildlife on Wednesday, but there is a lot more you can learn about science.  Let’s face it, we forgot most of what we learned in school and given the current state of affairs, we should probably level up our science knowledge.

Superhero Sundays     

It is Sunday, and you could reserve today for the great binge tv experience.  But you probably already made it to the bottom of your Netflix list (which, we didn’t know was possible before COVID-19, as my son pointed out). So, here is your opportunity to either become a Superhero nerd who learns all about the ones that exist, enjoying whatever medium you like.  Or, you could be come a designer of a new superhero, and work to even the representation of all kinds of people.  I’m thinking about Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

I can’t draw at all, but now could be the time to learn.  Here are some tutorials.

Chris Hart has a bunch of tutorials on drawing superheroes.

Or there’s this wonderful collection of resources here for drawing in general

Or you can skip the superheroes and just tune in to Bob Ross for some happy little clouds.

Have fun everyone.

PS: This is not my weekly blog.  I’m just taking a break from the WebEx meetings.

Community, Resilience

The Bright Side

It is March 23, 2020 and Western Connecticut State University has officially launched as a virtual campus.  Spring “break” was filled with activity. Faculty were preparing materials for online course delivery with lots of help from our Instructional Design team.  Information Technology & Innovation (IT&I) has been deploying hardware and software at a dizzying pace, all the while working to ensure that there is enough support on the Help Desk, as our system strains under the weight of a sudden level-up in usage. Academic and Student Support Services have moved to virtual formats.  Student Affairs and the Residence Life team are finishing up the process of helping our residential students retrieve their belongings, and the facilities team has identified appropriate places on campus for emergency spaces for the City of Danbury, should that be necessary.  It has been all hands on deck, and people have been rising to the challenge with positive attitudes.  Whew.

It is sure to be a little bumpy for the next few weeks.  We’re all learning quickly but mistakes will happen.  Nevertheless, I see some potential positive outcomes from adapting to this new reality.

Online Teaching and Learning

WCSU does not want to become an online university.  I want to be clear on that. We are woven into our community and we serve students from many backgrounds with varied needs.  Not all of our students (or faculty) will thrive in an online environment.  But some students will.  At WCSU, we’ve been trying to determine the right audiences and approaches for our online offerings (graduate, returning adult, hybrid, low-residency, and so on).  This quick turn-around to an online environment creates an opportunity for us to gather some actual data on these questions.  I am hoping for some great conversations and analytics when this is over.

It is also important to note that this midcourse shift in medium places faculty in a good position to assess the impact of moving their instruction online. Working with students face-to-face for the first half of the semester has provided the opportunity to get to know how each student engages their education.  This will help them see where the change in medium is or is not impacting student success.  When there is a change in student performance it may be time to review the approach. If student performance stays roughly the same, things are probably on the right track.  There will be a lot to learn about instructional design from this simple metric.

Online Academic Supports

While many students, staff, and faculty prefer face-to-face experiences for academic support, this isn’t necessarily a great fit for a majority commuter campus.  As my colleagues have worked at breakneck speed to develop processes to support the virtual versions of our support services (tutoring, academic coaching, advising for students of all learning needs), we now have the opportunity to compare the volume of demand for services, and possibly the impact of interventions, with the face-to-face version.  We may learn that we should reconsider the proportion of online vs. face-to-face services when we return to normal operations.

Registration for fall is also underway.  WCSU has (wisely) committed to requiring students to meet with their academic advisors prior to being allowed to register.  This allows us to flag critical pre-requisites or course sequences, discuss challenges or the need for academic support, identify opportunities (minors, internships, study abroad), and most of all, build relationships with our students.  However, like the realities of academic supports, sometimes our students’ work schedules, etc., make traditional office hours problematic.  Testing out platforms for good virtual advising experiences could be good for us.  I’ll add that learning to keep our advising recommendations in Degree Works could be another good outcome.  Think of all the paper we could save!

Collaboration

I’m not in love with the collaboration tools yet, but I can definitely see their value. Between Teams for smaller group meetings and WebEx and Zoom for the larger ones, we are learning to stay in touch via technology.  I know lots of organizations have been doing this for years, but education tends to be a high touch environment.  We find the free flow of face-to-face conversation and debate to be vital for refining our ideas.  The awkwardness of taking turns in the online environment does kind of dampen discussion, but it will let us proceed with university business and we will get better at it.

There is the other kind of collaboration, too.  We are organized by schools, departments, and divisions in higher education.  We frequently spend our careers interacting within the narrowest of those clusters, without learning much about how our colleagues see things or how they do their work.  Ironically, this separation is making us reach out across divisions more than we usually do.  There’s an esprit de corps as we try to help each other think things through and solve problems.

The connection between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs and Enrollment Management has never been stronger as we identify the gaps in our areas that result from the lack of face-to-face engagement with students and faculty.  We might just discover some better processes that won’t lead to these gaps when life returns to normal. Likewise, the relationship between students, faculty, and the IT&I team has strengthened, as people become accustomed to the online support they used to resist.  As we moved to quickly vacate the campus, many of us came to understand the logistics routinely managed by our Residential Life staff, our Facilities Team, and our Campus Police.

I know I might sound a little too Kumbaya, this week, but it is honestly how I feel.  I am proud of my colleagues and excited to learn from all that has occurred.  And if that’s a little to mushy, consider this – with this dash to online will never worry about snow days again!

Stay healthy.