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.
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?
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