Together but Apart: Emerson Life in the Midst of a Pandemic (Part Two)

The entire world has been completely altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Emerson community, at home and abroad; our institutions; our campus; our culture; and our way of life, have been turned upside down. However, Emersonian students and faculty have been working diligently to expand and develop our community’s boundaries, as the college strives to establish and recreate the Emerson learning experience during this time of uncertainty. The switch from in-person learning to virtual platforms has most certainly been a transition for our campus, but our faculty and staff are continuing to persevere.


Last month, our Grad Life Blog posted an entry featuring five students from all program cohorts at Emerson, and their thoughts and feelings on the abrupt transition to remote learning. Recently, I spoke with six Emerson Graduate Program Directors and Professors about how COVID-19 has affected their teaching rhetoric and classroom experience; here’s what they had to say:


 

 

Name: Patti Nelson

Title: Speech Language Pathologist, Graduate Program Director of the “On Grounds” Communication Sciences & Disorders program

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: How many courses are you teaching this semester?

A: One course for our online Speech @Emerson program, and I also teach “On Grounds” Language Acquisition to undergraduates and Clinical Methods IV to graduate students.

 

Q: Do you have an additional job to being an Emerson professor? If so, what is your title?

A: Graduate Program Director for the residential CSD program

 

Q: How has COVID-19 affected your teaching rhetoric?

A: I have found that it became more important for me to check in with students when we first had to shuffle from on grounds to distance learning. So many of our students were upended by having to quickly move from their dorms, apartments, the cities, to their homes or home countries even, with very little notice. The first ten minutes of class was often the most important to me and I’d like to think, to my students, to ensure that sense of community and support, that we are truly all in this together but that we would prevail and I would do what I could to get them across to the finish line (completing the course successfully). I had to look at revising course expectations given the levels of anxiety among the students, and to think about reasonable and compatible expectations during this COVID-19 time.

 

Q: What was your initial reaction when Emerson announced that the remainder of the semester would be remote?

A: Sadness.

 

Q: Was the one-week adjustment period to transition online difficult for you?

A: I had been teaching with the S@E online program, so it wasn’t a heavy lift to transition to distance learning.

 

Q: What has been the most useful digital platform for your classes?

A: Zoom, Canvas

 

Q: What has been the most difficult adjustment for you in regard to being remote? This can apply to teaching, social life, anything!

A: The blurred boundaries between work and home have been difficult to navigate. I feel like I work much more without clear office hours. Of course missing my colleagues and students has been a significant transition and adjustment. I do like how creative we have been to continue our sense of community (online videos back and forth with our students, planning a virtual celebration for graduating students, and faculty lounge times, to name a few).

 

 

Q: What has been your favorite activity or hobby while being remote?

A: Free online yoga and Zumba classes, virtual hang outs with family/friends, and walks with my son and husband.

 

Q: What do you miss the most about the Emerson community?

A: I miss the vibrancy of the students and the energy of working on our college campus.

 

Q: If you could provide any words of wisdom or insight to students, what would it be?

A: Be present and engaged, as we are truly all in this together, and your active participation is appreciated by those of us teaching.

“Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.” (Bob Goff).


 

 

Name: Tim Riley

Title: Graduate Program Director and Associate Professor in the Journalism Department

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: What department do you teach in?

A: Journalism

 

Q: How many courses are you teaching this semester?

A: I taught one spring course and had assembly leadership duties.

 

Q: Do you have an additional job to being an Emerson professor? If so, what is your title?

A: I am a Freelance Critic for NPR and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

 

Q: Has your place of employment closed because of COVID-19? Can you work remotely?

A: I am currently working remotely, and I have taught online courses in the past, so the transition to remote learning was not as traumatic of an adjustment as many others.

 

 

Q: How has COVID-19 affected your teaching rhetoric?

A: Teaching from an online platform has proven to be quite different than in-person learning. It is more abstract, fully focused on the textual component (which I like), but it is much more difficult to get a strong handle on student reactions.

 

Q: What was your initial reaction when Emerson announced that the remainder of the semester would be remote?

A: Mostly relief. The scare had pretty much rolled over everybody, and the death projections looked bad, so we hunkered down and hoped for the best.

 

 

Q: Was the one-week adjustment period to transition online difficult for you?

A: No because it was essential: it allowed me to get my act together before continuing classes.

 

Q: What has been the most useful digital platform for your classes?

A: Canvas, easily. Its a great tool, alongside of Panopto and Zoom.

 

Q: What has been the most difficult adjustment for you in regard to being remote? This can apply to teaching, social life, anything!

A: Getting used to the long days without a commute has put me in touch with myself in a much more dramatic way. You realize how many distractions take up a given “normal” day, and how much out attention gets scattered across different fields. I enjoy the relative freedom of getting to read more and listen to more music, but it dramatizes how much human interaction I prize on a daily basis, which causes a lot of stress.

 

Q: What has been your favorite activity or hobby while being remote?

A: Getting back into my chess thing big-time. Long, EPIC games.

 

Q: What do you miss the most about the Emerson community?

A: The cafeteria where you run into different people all the time; my office, which I cherish as a workspace with lots of books; and my colleagues.

 

Q: If you could provide any words of wisdom or insight to students, what would it be?

A: “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with it.” I keep learning this every day, and the global pandemic has been like a giant X-RAY of what’s right an what’s wrong with the world, both politically and economically. We need to build a strong infrastructure to project ourselves from a second wave and future viruses. Peoples’ economic status is simply one measure of their worth: we not value medical teams far more than we ever have, and the sacrifice in that profession has proved heroic. We will be processing the lessons of this pandemic for the rest of our lives.


 

 

Name: Susanne Althoff

Title: Professor in the Writing, Literature, & Publishing Department

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(photo credit to Joel Benjamin)

 

Q: What department do you teach in?

A: Writing, Literature & Publishing

 

Q: How many courses are you teaching this semester?

A: Three

 

Q: Do you have an additional job to being an Emerson professor? If so, what is your title?

A: No

 

Q: How has COVID-19 affected your teaching rhetoric?

A: I’ve been so impressed with my students’ willingness to experiment and roll with the punches. This situation hasn’t been ideal for anyone, but we’ve managed. I’ve greatly missed the face-to-face interactions with students and the impromptu conversations that used to happen. Small-group Zoom meetings have been very helpful to keep the learning going.

 

Q: What was your initial reaction when Emerson announced that the remainder of the semester would be remote?

A: When the announcement was made the evening of March 10, I was teaching my Writing for The Boston Globe Magazine course, so 12 of my students and I were able to process the news as it broke. I think the first feeling was sadness. It was hard not to focus on all that we were about to lose. But that quickly changed to a determination to make this work and adapt.

 

Q: Was the one-week adjustment period to transition online difficult for you?

A: That one-week adjustment period was a challenge because it coincided with seven of my students writing articles about COVID-19 for The Boston Globe Magazine. Those articles had to be reported, written, and edited in four days. The students did amazing work. While that was rewarding, it took me away from prepping for the transition to online.

 

Q: What has been the most useful digital platform for your classes?

A: I feel like I’ve been living on Canvas, especially the discussion boards. It’s been great to see students share their thoughts on the boards and react with each other. And every student gets a chance to participate in the discussion, which doesn’t happen in a physical classroom. So that’s a real positive.

 

 

 

Q: What has been the most difficult adjustment for you in regard to being remote? This can apply to teaching, social life, anything!

A: The most difficult adjustment has been my 9-year-old’s separation from his friends and his school. My husband and I have had to serve as his sole playmates and teachers. A lot of Minecraft has been played!

 

Q: What has been your favorite activity or hobby while being remote?

A: My family and I play basketball in our tiny, tiny backyard. It’s been wonderful to be physical and silly and outside.

 

Q: What do you miss the most about the Emerson community?

A: I most miss conversations with students, especially the ones that happen in the hallways and before and after classes.

 

Q: If you could provide any words of wisdom or insight to students, what would it be?

A: I recognize how difficult this has been for students, and I applaud their determination and resilience and creativity. I feel confident that they’ll look back on this and will be amazed at how strong they were, perhaps stronger than they thought they could be.


 

 

Name: Paul Mihailidis

Title: Associate Professor in Civic Media & Journalism, Graduate Program Director of the Media Design Program

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: What department do you teach in?

A: Journalism

 

Q: How many courses are you teaching this semester?

A: One Course MD630: Mapping Community Engagement

 

Q: Do you have an additional job to being an Emerson professor? If so, what is your title?

A: I also serve as Faculty Chair and Director of the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change, run by the Salzburg Global Seminar.

 

Q: Has your place of employment closed because of COVID-19? Can you work remotely?

A: Emerson and Salzburg have both moved to remote work, teaching and engage people from around the world.

 

Q: How has COVID-19 affected your teaching rhetoric?

A: If I understand the question correctly, to me its reinforced connection, and commitment. My grad students and I talk a lot about commitment to each other and our collective journey in the program, and the teaching has taken that same urgency. When our ability to be together is taken from us, we respond with resolved and persistence as educators. And with a mindfulness for our situations as individuals and a community.

 

Q: What was your initial reaction when Emerson announced that the remainder of the semester would be remote?

A: My initial reaction was to care for our community. There’s uncertainty about the health of our community, about the situations the students will face in their personal living situations, away from family, or with loved ones that are in essential positions or compromised in some way. We made sure we were attentive as we could be in the face of a situation that renders our learning temporarily insignificant.

 

Q: Was the one-week adjustment period to transition online difficult for you?

A: Not in terms of teaching, in terms of adjusting all of life, yes. I have three young children at home and a partner who’s also an educator. Loves to navigate.

 

 

Q: What has been the most useful digital platform for your classes?

A: Obviously we use Zoom like everyone else. That’s been helpful to see each other. We also have a weekly slack channel that we call #aparttogether. It’s a photo diary that each week has a new topic (food, home, music, etc.) and it keeps us connected in beautiful ways.

 

Q: What has been the most difficult adjustment for you in regard to being remote? This can apply to teaching, social life, anything!

A: Trying to share with my children what’s happening, why and what it means for their lives….

 

Q: What has been your favorite activity or hobby while being remote?

A: Reading novels more, puzzles, and just being around my children….I’ve realized time like I hadn’t in the past.

 

Q: What do you miss the most about the Emerson community?

A: I guess there isn’t much I miss yet. I’m still very connected with my community. I miss seeing people but I feel invested in everything Emerson is doing, and so “missing” is not the right frame for me.

 

Q: If you could provide any words of wisdom or insight to students, what would it be?

A: That persistence, presence and passion know no bounds. We are called to be in support of those in need, no matter the circumstances. And our community rises to that call in solidarity and support for those in need.

 

 

 

 


 

 

Name: Bethany Nelson

Title: Graduate Program Director of the Theatre Education and Applied Theatre programs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: What department do you teach in?

A: I teach in Performing Arts, in the area of Theatre Education, both Grad and undergrad.

 

Q: How many courses are you teaching this semester?

A: I taught two courses in Spring 2020, am teaching 2 in Summer 1 and a 10-day intensive in Summer 2.

 

 

Q: Do you have an additional job to being an Emerson professor? If so, what is your title?

A: I am the Area Head of Undergraduate Theatre Education and Graduate Program Director for grad Theatre Education and Applied Theatre.

 

Q: Has your place of employment closed because of COVID-19? Can you work remotely?

A: I’m working remotely, primarily using Zoom. My classes are all conducted synchronously, and all of my meetings are virtual as well.

 

Q: How has COVID-19 affected your teaching rhetoric?

A: It hasn’t really, beyond the inclusion of the word zoom as a noun rather than just a verb. My beliefs about teaching, and the way that I teach, have remained similar. I teach actively, creating shared experiences for the students in the class, which we then discuss and analyze as a group. That way, every student can offer their thoughts and ideas, since every student has had the hands-on practice together. The pairs and small group work that are central to my teaching practice are accomplished in Zoom through the regular use of the breakout room function, and the students have been very creative about how to use the digital environment to create art, to teach one another, and to engage actively in shared experiences.

 

Q: What was your initial reaction when Emerson announced that the remainder of the semester would be remote?

A: I was bummed. I have taught on-line classes before and it wasn’t my cup of tea. The dynamic energy of a group of learners in a room is what I like best about teaching. However, I’d never used the Zoom platform before; it made all the difference.

 

Q: Was the one-week adjustment period to transition online difficult for you?

A: It was labor-intensive.

 

Q: What has been the most useful digital platform for your classes?

A: I use Zoom almost exclusively. I find that I can make real contact with the students and help them feel a sense of community in the Zoom room. In the course on Playmaking that I’m currently teaching, one student commented that she forgot that we were all in the Zoom environment because it felt so ‘lifelike.’ That’s my goal, and Zoom facilitates that.

 

Q: What has been the most difficult adjustment for you in regard to being remote? This can apply to teaching, social life, anything!

A: My eyes get tired after Zooming for 6-8 hours in a day, things take more time on the online platform, and the amount of energy it requires from me to help keep students engaged in the moment is substantial. Otherwise, it’s been good. I wouldn’t trade it for live teaching, but making it work, for my subject, for the students and for me has been an interesting challenge so far.

 

Q: What has been your favorite activity or hobby while being remote?

A: I live in a 1780’s farmhouse, and have been working on/reconstructing the exterior of the house. The intense physical labor is a good counter-activity for the stationary nature of teaching online.

 

Q: What do you miss the most about the Emerson community?

A: I miss the buzz and the energy of groups of students gathered in the halls and in Paramount, and the casual bits of conversation in the halls with students, colleagues and friends. I miss running into students on the sidewalks as we travel between buildings, and the quick exchange of news, jokes and moments of connection.

 

Q: If you could provide any words of wisdom or insight to students, what would it be?

A: We are locked in a time of fear, loss and uncertainty, but the world is bigger than the current moment, and the knowledge that you carry and the talents that you have to offer are of great importance. The world will still be waiting for you after this pandemic is over; it will still need what you have to contribute, what you have prepared yourself to contribute. Try not to lose sight of that future in this myopic present.


 

 

Name: John Rodzvilla

Title: Graduate Program Director and professor of the Writing, Literature, and Publishing Department

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: What department do you teach in?

A: Writing, Literature and Publishing.

 

Q: How many courses are you teaching this semester?

A: Two classes per semester plus advising all MA students in Publishing and Writing.

 

Q: How has COVID-19 affected your teaching rhetoric?

A: I was already teaching online before COVID-19 so I was already in an asynchronous mindset for teaching and was comfortable teaching online instead of in the classroom. The one change to the rhetoric was to revise expectations and deadlines due to the anxiety and overall social changes. The tools and assignments were all still valid but the overall direction of the class was based on a sense of students feeling safe and having a set time to focus on classwork. That had to change when students were laid off, furloughed or having to manage and help family members. This new reality affected the rhetoric more than a change in delivery.

 

Q: What was your initial reaction when Emerson announced that the remainder of the semester would be remote?

A: Half of my classes were online already and I was preparing my current residential class as an online course for the summer. It didn’t affect me all that much other than moving up some deadlines.

 

Q: Was the one-week adjustment period to transition online difficult for you?

A: It was not but I did feel for the other professors who were being disrupted and having to switch to new modes of learning.

 

Q: What has been the most useful digital platform for your classes?

A: I have been a big fan of Canvas since the school started using it a few years ago. The learning system is far from perfect, but it provides so many option from discussions and quizzes to ways for peer review and group work.

 

Q: What has been the most difficult adjustment for you in regard to being remote? This can apply to teaching, social life, anything!

A: I miss seeing the students in person. Before COVID-19 I was trying to push for a stronger sense of community within the program and had been trying to give students social opportunities on campus. Now it feels like we are all working and living in our own bubbles.

 

Q: What has been your favorite activity or hobby while being remote?

A: I’ve tried to take up wood carving again and I’ve put in a lot of miles getting back into a daily run.

 

Q: What do you miss the most about the Emerson community?

A: I miss the random interactions with students and other faculty that happens on campus. Meetings require agendas and it often feels like we’re wasting time if we’re not following an agenda on a conference call.

 

Q: If you could provide any words of wisdom or insight to students, what would it be?

A: I’ve been listening to Thich Nhat Hanh on my runs and this quote has resonated with me in the current situation:

“Worrying does not accomplish anything. Even if you worry twenty times more, it will not change the situation of the world. In fact, your anxiety will only make things worse. Even though things are not as we would like, we can still be content, knowing we are trying our best and will continue to do so….The most important practice is aimlessness, not running after things, not grasping.”

 


**If you are a current or incoming Emerson student, below are some helpful resources tools about our community, how we are tackling COVID-19, continuous updated information, related news, and more**

 

  • General Page on COVID-19
  • Announcements: The latest updates on Emerson’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • Emerson Everywhere: Emerson Everywhere is here to serve as a resource for students, faculty, staff, families, and alumni to help navigate the new way we operate as one community from distant corners of the world. By using helpful links to tools and guides, Emerson can assist its students with remote classroom instruction, virtual office hours, and ways to connect to the services and people our community relies on to make the most of the Emerson experience.
  • FAQ’s: Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and its impact on the Emerson community.
  • Resources: maintained by the CDC
  • Emerson Today: News, updates, and articles on current students, alumni, and faculty that are perservering through this time uncertainty to create a virtual Emerson experience.
  • Virtual Visits & Resources for Graduate Students

 

**For questions or concerns regarding COVID-19 and Emerson College, please direct your inquiries to the email address below**

  • Contact: covid19@emerson.edu

 

 

About the Author:

Hanna Shemke is a second year Publishing & Writing student at Emerson College. She works in the Graduate Admissions Department as the Marketing and Communications Assistant, and she is also the Digital Marketing Coordinator for Emerson’s graduate journal, Redivider. Currently, she is at home in Michigan, where she is working remotely on her thesis and looking to adopt a kitten.