Dear Students, This One Is For You

It was a late afternoon (5:30PM to be exact) on Friday (the 13th 🐈‍⬛) March 2020. I had ended a meeting with a student and was tidying my office desk in anticipation of ushering the workday to a close. As I glanced over my email inbox one last time before logging out, an unread message caught my attention. The message was a university-wide broadcast, announcing the transition to online classes effective the following Monday for the remainder of the semester.

COVID-19 contingency planning was already underway prior to the announcement, so the scenario of having to reconfigure courses for an online environment was not entirely unexpected. And yet, still, bewilderment consumed me. Mostly, I was concerned the disruption would unravel the classroom rapport that I had been so careful to nurture, week by week, from the very start of that semester. With no prior experience in teaching online classes, I knew there was much to learn—and not very much time to do so.

In the weeks that followed, my trepidation transformed into awe and amazement. I was pleasantly surprised by the ease with which students adapted to online learning and by the level of their engagement in the virtual classroom. Perhaps we were merely responding with innocent enchantment to the novelty of our shared, albeit uncertain, circumstance. Even if that were true, I would be remiss in not acknowledging that our classroom rapport strengthened remarkably in those final weeks of the semester. And, because of it, we rediscovered the meaning of community and hope.

The transition to online education during 🌱Spring 2020 carried over into ☀️Summer 2020 , and then continued further into 🍂Autumn 2020 and 🌸Spring 2021. There is no denying the loss and setback that one full year of online education has had on students and educators alike. After all, so much of learning and teaching is relationship-oriented and inextricably bound up in the wholeness of our being (as opposed to a remote, digitized representation of self).

Throughout the challenges of online education, the one constant lesson from my experience has been this: Community-building matters (far more than we realize) and students are perfect partners for creating an enduring sense of community in the classroom.


Figure 1. Student feedback in the chat box at the end of a class session, one week into the online transition. If only students could see how *they* were actively contributing to “the wonderful community” ❤️ (PLAN 425 | March 24th 2020)


Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.

– Helen Keller


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Centring Hope in the Year of Zoom University

Between March 2020 and April 2021, I embarked on a year-long quest to gather artefacts that illustrate community-building by and with students in the virtual classroom. The following exposition conveys an unapologetically hopeful tone. This deliberate centring of hope is a nod to the gravitas of the COVID-19 pandemic and an assertion of agency—the agency to choose hopefulness over despair. For what is community-building, if it is not also about building hope?

Figure 2. Starting the class session with a ‘show-and-tell’ segment allowed students to voluntarily share aspects of their lives beyond academe. In this instance, our canine and feline companions were invited to make an appearance on-camera—including my doggo (apparently, “floof” is a legitimate descriptor).  (PLAN 425 | March 24th 2020)

Figure 3. Office hours in Collaborate Ultra. A drawing board activity for early arrivals in the main room. This art piece was the first one created.  (PLAN 425 | March 26th 2020)

Figure 4. Collaborate Ultra breakout room activity that involved this question: What is your earliest recollection of how you first learnt about urban/city planning? Answer drawn by Group 15: PLAN 425 😁  (PLAN 425 | March 31st 2020)

Figure 5. The ceremonial last-day-of-class applause 🥲  (PLAN 425 | April 7th 2020)

Figure 6. Collective mural of optimism and hope.  (PLAN 425 | April 7th 2020)

Figure 7. Experimentations with Miro. “If we could meet in ‘real life’ tomorrow…” To view the full-length board >>>  (PLAN 548Q | June 30th 2020)

Figure 8. Warm-up activity on the ‘illusion of explanatory depth’ theory. Zoom annotate x 35 student responses 🤣  (PLAN 509 | February 8th 2021)

Figure 9. Discovery of the bitmoji.  (PLAN 425 | January 11th 2021)

Figure 10. Crowdsourcing students’ ridiculously non-academic questions in getting to know the teaching team.  (PLAN 425 | January 11th 2021)

Figure 11. Yes, correct! In all seriousness, there is more to this question than meets the eye.  (PLAN 425 | January 28th 2021)

Figure 12. Zoom poll asks students, in return, to answer one of their own ridiculously non-academic questions. (PLAN 425 | February 11th 2021)

Figure 13. Thanks to the teaching team and wonderful SCARP admin colleagues for infusing the class with a dose of comic relief!  (PLAN 425 | April 1st 2021)

Figure 14. Thank you for stepping up and bringing forth your best self to the virtual classroom, week after week after week.  (PLAN 425 | April 13th 2021)


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PLAN425 2021 Dear Students 06

 You’re all invited to return to this webpage on

April 30th 2030

for a special message.