On going back to the office, part 2

So a few weeks ago, I wrote a post on my feelings about returning to the office after nearly a year and half of working from home. At the time, I felt pretty good about it. Obviously, it was going to be a big change but I was tired of feeling so isolated. I wanted to be among people again and this felt like a good opportunity for a fresh start. Plus, I was grateful that, unlike many of my colleagues who have been working in-person this whole time, I got to wait to go back until things felt more safe again.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda might say, time has made a fool of that last point.

Which I kind of expected. I knew there were going to be variants and that things could get bad again, but like most people, I had no idea how bad they were going to get or how quickly. Now we’re at the start of a new semester and honestly I’m a lot more anxious and scared about what’s going to happen than I expected to be.

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On going back to the office

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Like a lot of people, I’ve spent the last year or so working from home but now, starting next week, that time is coming to an end. Everyone on my campus (or, well, the people who are actually there during the summer) is being called back as of July 6 and, as you can, imagine some people are happier about it than others.

Personally, I’m a lot less unhappy about it than I expected to be.

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My online teaching persona is a major introvert

Even in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t anticipate having to do much work to reimagine or restructure my credit-bearing information literacy course this spring. That’s because I’ve been teaching that course in a fully online, asynchronous environment for probably about five years. It seemed like there was nothing to adjust. If anything, I almost looked forward to the fact that students would be more used to taking online courses now,(1) which meant less of a learning curve by the time they got to me.

But then I started seeing conversations about how other instructors were incorporating Zoom and other tools into their online teaching, mostly to facilitate the delivery of lectures or other “live” learning activities. Again, I didn’t see the relevance to my own teaching right away because my course is entirely asynchronous. But by the time I started reviewing the materials in anticipation of the start of my own course, I began to think about how many of these instructors had used Zoom and other tools not only as a way to deliver course content but also to foster a sense of community in class. To make students feel like even though necessity has kept us largely separate during the last year or so, interacting through our screens rather than in person, there are still people here and those people can be more than words on a screen.

My class, I noticed, had no such opportunity for students to feel a sense of community. My lectures are all written. The activities are all writing-based. Though I try to interact directly with students as much as possible by responding to their discussion posts and giving them feedback on their assignments, it is entirely possible to go through my course without interacting with a single other human being.

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Time is weird

Image by anncapictures from Pixabay

For Christmas 2019, a family member gave me one of those page-a-day calendars as a gift. This one featured a fun piece of new movie trivia every day. As someone who basically lives on IMDB’s trivia pages, this was like a perfect gift for me. I brought it to work in January and started each work day with a new piece of trivia to enjoy.

That calendar is still in my office. It’s permanently stuck on March 16, 2020, the last day I was at work before everything shut down due to the pandemic. In the scramble to get what I needed to work from home before the library was closed, I didn’t think to take the calendar with me. The one time I’ve visited my office since then, I decided to leave it. By then, it was August anyway.

I wasn’t expecting to be gone so long. I remember seeing news reports even at the time that said this was a crisis that was going to last at least a year, maybe two, possibly more depending on how things went. But my mind couldn’t fathom such a long period spent in crisis mode. So at first I took it two weeks at a time, since that was the period covered by each stay-at-home order by our governor. Then I told myself 100 days was all I needed to get through. At the end of 100 days, things would either be better or I would be used to this new reality.

In a way, both ended up being true. Positivity rates started going down in the summer and things started opening up again, even though they probably shouldn’t have. And I felt a little more confident about my ability to navigate this new world we were living in, including wearing masks everywhere and washing my hands more thoroughly and more often than I had before. The new reality wasn’t comfortable, exactly, but it felt like something I could exist in, for a while at least.

Now it’s been 365 days and sometimes I feel like I’m struggling more now than I did at that 100 day mark. I said at the end of 2020 that one thing that the pandemic has given me is a better awareness of my privilege compared to others. The reason March 16, 2020 is frozen on my calendar is because I’ve had the opportunity to work from home this whole time while others haven’t, whether because they’re required to go in to work or because they don’t have jobs at all thanks to the pandemic. Because I’ve been employed, I’ve also had access to mental health care this whole time. So while I do struggle, I’ve been luckier than a lot of other people throughout this last year. I don’t want to pretend otherwise.

If I had to name another lesson the pandemic has taught me, though, I would probably say that it’s one that has to do with the need for connection. I’ve always been an introvert who greatly prefers time alone to time spent being social but I never realized what a privilege it can be to just, like, sit in a room with another person for a little while. Alone time is all well and good but it turns out full-on isolation basically sucks. Luckily, some part of me must have seen this coming because at the start of the pandemic, I started scheduling coffee and chat sessions on Zoom with former and current colleagues/friends as a way to stay in touch and check in on each other. I feel like doing this has strengthened my connection to these groups, an opportunity I never would have had (or would have taken even if I did have it) in more normal times. So I guess that’s something else to be grateful for.

Anyway. All of this to say: I can’t believe it’s been a year. Time is weird. I don’t know what will happen in the coming year or the next 100 days. Hopefully it will be good. Hopefully it will be better for all of us than it is now. I feel like there’s reason to think it will be but I’m sure even better things and a return to “normal” will bring challenges, both expected and not. But given what we’ve been through so far, there’s reason to believe we’ll get through those challenges, too.

Until then, stay safe and well.

How COVID is changing my online course this spring

This spring, I’ll be teaching a section of my eight week credit-bearing information literacy course starting in late March. This is the first time I’ll be teaching this course in over a year thanks in part to the chaos of COVID and also my sabbatical this fall, which will soon be coming to an end.

Because I was on sabbatical and focusing on my research during what would normally be the planning period for spring, my plan this year was just to teach the course the exact same way I did last spring. Back then, I’d rearranged the course a little from previous iterations and used a new version of my usual annotated bibliography project that was reasonably successful. So I decided that I would make minimal changes this time around in order to squeeze as much as research and writing time as possible out of my remaining sabbatical.

In some ways, that was easy to do. My course has been fully online for quite a while now so there was nothing I needed to do to convert the materials I already had to the new situation. Teaching the course this year should have been an easy copy and paste job. Easy peasy.

The problem with this is that I’ve never been very good at copying and pasting my course from semester to semester. I’m always making changes. Between fall and spring, these are usually small changes. I generally save bigger changes for the fall semester so that I have the summer to plan them.

But now a whole year has passed since I last taught this course and the world looks very different from the way it did last time I did this. So while a copy and paste from last year to this year would have been possible, it didn’t feel right. I ended up doing yet another overhaul.

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Information literacy in evolving situations like COVID

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

As an information literacy instructor, I spend a lot of time talking to students and library patrons about authority. As the ACRL Framework tells us, authority is both constructed and contextual. So someone who’s considered an authority in one area or situation might not be one in others. And who we bestow authority on also depends on a number of indicators, both emotional and objective. Like, not only what credentials this person has but also whether or not we feel like we can trust what they say.

Authority has become a complicated thing the last few years as mistrust in expertise keeps rising but I think this year has been especially challenging because the COVID situation has been one where a big reason people stopped trusting the experts is because what the experts were saying kept changing. Like with the mask thing. First we didn’t need them, then they became important and now they’re thought of as essential.

Of course, there are political reasons behind at least some of this inconsistency. It doesn’t help that the person in the United States who is supposed to be viewed as most authoritative of all is…well, we know who he is and what he’s like.

But there’s also the fact that the reason authorities and experts changed their advice over time is because our understanding of COVID changed over time. The whole reason COVID was such a threat at first was because we didn’t know how it worked or how to treat it. But the experts had to tell people something. So they worked with the information they had and gave what recommendations they could: wash your hands, sanitize surfaces, etc.

And I don’t know about you, but having some information about what steps I could take to help protect myself made me feel a little less anxious at the time, even though the advice we’re being given has changed a lot over time.

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Hopes and worries for the coming academic year

Image by nile from Pixabay

In some places, the fall semester has already started but here classes don’t begin for another week or so. It’s hard to believe the summer is already over even though it seems like it lasted a million years. Time has definitely gotten weird.

The plan for the fall semester here looks more less like it does on many other college campuses. Some classes will be offered in person, most will be online. Some students will be staying in the residence halls but there will be a lot more restrictions on what dorm life will look like than there has been in the past. A lot of the usual campus activities will either be held virtually or scaled back or cancelled altogether. Needless to say, there are going to be a lot of moving parts to this thing and no one really knows what’s going to happen.

It could be fine. Or it could be a disaster.

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Sabbatical on the horizon: Thinky thoughts

Image by Roman Grac from Pixabay

My sabbatical is only about a month away and my plans for it are starting to come more into focus. Of course, when I submitted my proposal a year ago, I had no way of knowing how much the world was going to change between then and now. So even as my overall plan has stayed the same, my vision of what my sabbatical will look like has had to change quite a bit and my feelings about it are a little more mixed than they might have been if the pandemic hadn’t happened or if the United States had gotten it under better control by now.

The truth is, this sabbatical was always going to bring with it things to be excited about and things that would be challenging. But there are a couple of items in each category that have been on my mind as the start date approaches.(1)

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