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Letter: Keep Learning, Keep Teaching, sure, but mostly, Keep it Real

letter to the editor

Students: I miss you. And my faculty colleagues miss you. I hope you know that, beyond all the Zoom fails, interminable discussion forum posts and way-too-long emails, we are processing our own sense of loss of connection to you, and to each other. 

Each day, I read the Duke Chronicle as a small way to hear your voices. I was particularly struck by two columns recently published: “Keep Learning” by Gino Nuzzolillo  and “Zoom has to be Temporary” by Akshaj Turebylu. 

Gino and Akshaj: I totally agree with you.

Gino argues that “we don’t need business-as-usual Duke—we need more flexibility, more grace, more reminders that our academic productivity isn’t more important than our ability to survive.” He goes on to criticize the Keep Going ethic that has emerged from Duke, and I agree that we can’t all just keep going as if everything wasn’t going to hell.

I also want to acknowledge the incredibly hard work of my colleagues to quickly develop resources to help our faculty transition to online teaching almost overnight. The folks at Learning Innovation are my heroes, not because they have all the answers but because they have taken a complete mess of suggestions, resources and best practices and organized it into an amazingly helpful resource guide at Keep Teaching. 

Over Spring Break, I helped my own colleagues at the Nicholas School figure out how to take their courses online. And I was reminded that I work with and teach alongside really dedicated faculty members. Yes, they wanted to keep their classes going, but they also were genuinely concerned for their students’ safety, their health, and their wellbeing. 

And now they are teaching with their own kids in the background, worries about their families weighing on them and in the midst of a constant slew of emails about the best practices for giving online exams, the confusing grading policy, resources to share with students, and more. 

Keep Teaching? Yeah, um, how about (Mostly) Keep Teaching?

Akshaj writes very directly about concerns with Zoom taking over in-person classes for good. I especially agreed with his statement: Even taking the pulse of those close to me, I get the same result: “This sucks.” 

Yes, it does. Who else feels like a Zoom zombie? I think most faculty and students, alike, are looking forward to “Leaving the Meeting” for good!

But, as someone who regularly teaches online, I have a lot to say about the potential for genuine connection in a Zoom meeting or Sakai forum. I’m not worried about this becoming the new norm, but I’ll admit that I've been spending some sleepless nights worrying that this grand, hurried experiment in online learning is going to backfire on programs like the one I direct, as we collectively begin to despise this online environment on which we now depend.

Yes, some of us could do a better job with our lectures, with managing the chat box, with projecting a sense of calm amidst this storm. Not all of us can be creative with delivering our courses right now, and not all of us have the time and headspace that we normally devote to our teaching.

I don’t know about you, but sneaking peeks of my colleagues’ kids and my students’ cats has helped me to realize that we are all real people, all dealing with various challenges in various ways and are worthy of so much grace. Maybe in addition to Keep Learning, Keep Teaching and Keep Working, what we really need is a Keep it Real site! Thanks to the Chronicle writers and others who aren’t afraid to point out that much of this, yes, sucks, and to remind us that keeping it real is perhaps our most important responsibility to each other right now. 

Rebecca Vidra is the faculty director of the Duke Environmental Leadership Program.

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