söndag 22 mars 2020

Corona adaptations


Corona adaptations. My current workplace.

I guess there is only one topic this blog post could possibly treat and that is how Corona has affected my own and others' teaching practices during the last 10 days or so.

I'd say that for me personally, the shit hit the fan on Thursday March 12. I had group supervision with six bachelor's thesis students and my guest, Kelly Widdicks, tagged along. At the beginning of the session I asked the students if they were personally worried about Corona and the answer was "not for my own health but perhaps the socially responsible thing would be to stay home". We switched to speaking English at that session to include Kelly in our conversation, but she was distracted and also left the classroom twice. It turned out that when we ended our two-hour meeting, Kelly had re-booked here ticket back to the UK from Saturday and she left Sweden that same afternoon after she had held a lunch seminar about her research at another department with a lackluster turnout (many had chosen to stay home that day). And then things went downhill.

The next supervision meeting with the same students happened exactly one week later (Thursday March 19) was done through videoconference (using Zoom) and the topic of the day was Corona adaptations of the students' bachelor's theses. Meeting outside of Zoom was no longer an option at that point since KTH had closed its doors to all students the day before. As of Wednesday March 18, the students' keycards don't work any longer and they can not enter KTH buildings. Me together with all other faculty can still enter KTH, but have personally worked from home since Thursday March 19 for two reasons. The first is that it's is being said that it's not advisable to go by subway, but the second and more important reason is that they closed my youngest son's school on Thursday and Friday (March 19-20) to retool and switch to distance education. He and all other sixth graders are welcome back on Monday for a half-day tutorial on how to handle the new situation and the online/distance education tools but his school will be closed during the following two weeks after that (and then there's a one week long Easter break when they reassess the situation). As apart from much of Europe, Swedish schools are not mandated to close, but they apparently have the option and I presume they took that decision after it seemed to be the socially responsible thing to do but primarily since increasing numbers of parents started to keep their children home from school. My son treated Thursday and Friday as vacation (or weekend) and tensions ran high as both me and my wife worked from home while he wanted to use the TV to play computer games (and loudly banter with his online friends).

I could thus continue to go to KTH to work if I wanted to (it's empty), but I would then possibly chose to go by bike instead of subway. With two kids at home (12 and 16) I would however then leave all "ground service" at home to my wife. I might still go to KTH now and then during the following week(s) but I will probably also work a lot from home.

I have had an extraordinary number of Zoom (video conference) meetings during the last few days and I'm now learning new things about how to work with Zoom. The biggest problem I have is that the internet connection from my balcony sometimes is sub-standard with sound dropping for upwards to 5 or 10 seconds. The balcony is still where I prefer to go to be able to talk freely without disturbing others. Some things are easy to shift to online but other things are very hard to manage remotely. Much work during the latter part of the week was about retooling. I'm the advisor of 8 pairs of students who write their bachelor's thesis this spring (see this and this blog post) and while some have fewer problem and just shift their planned interviews to online, others have planned to recruit people to do focus groups/design workshops - which will now not happen. It's also a huge challenge to manage the 17-student Homo Colossus@Expo 2020 project online instead of in person. What really sucks is that we just now got a project room at KTH where we can work and hang out - except of course that we can't hang out there during the Corona virus shutdown.

Still, I talked to a colleague abroad and he said it was sad to realize that besides working from home, very little is different in what he does during the self-imposed Corona quarantine and what he ordinarily does at his job - and I agree. This shutdown does not affect my job very much. I do what I ordinarily do, e.g. work with a variety of tasks where I use my computer and while I prefer to do them at KTH for a number or reasons, it is also possible to do them from elsewhere with only a minor decline in the quality of the time I put in. The one big difference (which isn't that big/problematic) is that I have shifted my meetings from in-person to online.

If I lift the perspective from my personal situation to that of my colleagues at the department, it seems we retooled to online in a very short amount of time. The new courses started this past week (Monday March 16) and there was a concerted effort to help teachers switch to online in no time at all. A KTH IT and a pedagogical support helpdesk function was open all weekend to help teachers cope and solve practical problems to "mission: move all teaching online". From my lowly perspective, we actually seem to cope well at KTH, switching all our education to online in no time at all. While the Corona crisis is a challenge, my colleagues and higher ups are smart and have made smart decisions - like the decision to allow/encourage people to solve their own problems instead of trying to run things from "up above".

At our department, we have a collaboratively authored Google document about teaching practices during Covid-19. Since I last saw that document, someone has now erected a better structure and the document is currently seven pages long and has headers with titles such as "Ideas on how to re-design a course, and communicate it to the students", "Lecturing", "Project assignments", "Use of labs", "Master/Bachelor thesis", "Divide students into groups", "Work discipline/studying together at a distance" and "About/tracking Corona".

It could be that I'm misinformed, but from my perspective it seems that shift all courses to online  works OK and this makes me proud of my brilliant colleagues. I've asked students and they also say it's "OK" as in "passable" or better. Both teachers and students of course realize that this is an extraordinary situation that requires extraordinary measures and we all try to make the best of it together. I'm privileged in as much as I have the pleasure to for the most part work very motivated, self-directed and goal-oriented students.

Most impressive feat: My colleague Anders Lundström fixed "goody bags" for the students who are taking his course. The course started this past week and can't be taught without students having access to concrete materials. The were of course supposed to work with this at KTH but the course was retooled and necessary materials were delivered to their homes in suitably-branded paper bags (see below)! Here's Anders' March 18 Facebook post:

"During the past day we have been able to gather materials and distribute these bags to 56 students taking the DM1588 sensorprogramming course. Some have even been delivered outside their door! It is essential that the students have materials to make their homes into labspaces, otherwise this course makes little sense. Many thanks to the students and teaching assistants for their efforts in making this possible! There is hope!"

Good luck with your own Corona life. Also I encourage you to write a comment to this blog post about how the Corona crisis/shutdown affects you in your job.

Corona adaptations. From my Facebook post on this topic: 
"Finally proved my wife wrong when she 10 years ago ERRONEOUSLY claimed we would have NO USE of the National Encyclopedia on paper..."

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