Monthly Archives: March 2020

Altering expectations of our students and ourselves in a time of global pandemic

Across the multiple teams I work on and academic departments I chair, I am trying to reduce expectations of what we, our teams, our students, and our colleagues can be expected to do while in the middle of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

In case it might be useful to other department chairs, here is the message I sent out to program faculty yesterday, having been inspired by Chris Long:

Altering expectations of students in a time of pandemic

Dear MA in DH and MS in Data Analysis and Visualization Faculty,
Thank you all so much for the work you are doing to move your courses online. I know it is not easy, especially when there are so many options, when the move is so sudden, and when there is so much going on.

I wanted to take a moment and urge all of you teaching this semester — including myself! — to adjust expectations of our students for the rest of the semester. We simply cannot expect our students to do the same levels of reading, writing, coding, analysis, and thinking during a global pandemic as they were doing during a regular semester. Our students may have loved ones suffering from sickness; they may be working stressful jobs; they are living in new, more intense conditions; they are working through highly increased levels of anxiety; they are almost certainly juggling multiple responsibilities, as are we all. They are also learning new ways to communicate with classmates and with you as the university undertakes a massive shift online. 

At this moment, and certainly for the next month, I ask each of you to adjust your course requirements and reduce the amount of required reading, writing, analysis, and coding our students need to do. This may feel wrong, as if we are giving out students short-shrift, but I firmly believe that we need to actively adjust to this new, tumultuous reality. Should you wish, please find ways to design your curriculum that lays out possibilities for students who want to do more, but don’t require that. Make some readings and assignments optional where possible.
Executive Vice Chancellor José Luis Cruz has shared the following advice to campus administrations about distance education:

More on the Scope of Distance Learning”As we have indicated before, the objective of an academic continuity plan is to help safeguard the academic term from the standpoint of our student’s academic progress and their financial aid and support our faculty and student’s research efforts as we work to address the challenges posed by COVID-19.  As far as distance learning is concerned, the U.S. Department of Education has indicated that at a minimum, our faculty must be able to “communicate to students through one of several types of technology – including email – … and [that] instructors must initiate substantive communication with students, either individually or collectively, on a regular basis.”

“CUNY has asked faculty and staff to be prepared to accommodate affected students to the greatest reasonable extent. This includes, among other things: facilitating enrollment after the deadline, fast-tracking academic advising, permitting make-up exams and extending due dates of final assignments and projects. In this same spirit, and understanding the minimum USDE requirements to meeting learning outcomes, we’d urge faculty members to privilege asynchronous over synchronous distance learning approaches. Because the reality is that our faculty and students lives and daily schedules will surely be disrupted in the days to come — especially now that the NYC Department of Education has itself indicated a move to distance learning.” (emphasis added)

It is up to all of you, as faculty, to decide what is realistic for your students, but I encourage you to undertake conversations about what is possible with your students. One possibility might be to have your class find ways to interact with and address this moment; my own class started the CUNY Distance Learning Archive; I suspect it will become a project that will occupy us for the rest of the semester, which is not what I expected at the beginning. I am planning to reduce our readings as a result.

Above all, I urge you to exhibit compassion and understanding towards our students, and to worry less about grades and the like than you might under normal conditions. There is a movement afoot to turn most classes to pass/fail; I support that personally.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with questions and concerns. These are not easy or uncomplicated issues. Thank you for everything you are doing at this moment to support our students, and please take time to take care of yourself, as well.