April 22, 2020
I’m sure you all have some interesting stories to tell about this memorable time; I know I do. I could tell you about discovering 3 inches of water in my basement and half of my house electrical system going on vacation—both on the same day and having nothing to do with each other. I have decided, instead, though, to talk about something that you might be more interested in. Our state legislature has decided, by passing appropriate laws, that all students must complete English 1A (college English composition) and College Algebra within one year of their enrollment in Community Colleges. Yes. That’s what I said. We have carefully and thoughtfully developed programs over the years that test and place students in courses that are appropriate for their skill level, with alternate paths for mistakes in placement—which were rare. Now, it is imagined that all students are able to enter 1A directly from HS or they may have a single semester to correct any shortcomings. Oh, and students get to decide which class they should take—most, of course, choose to go directly into 1A, (I can’t speak about college algebra) where many then fail. We grudgingly started this spring semester, as a department, teaching a zillion sections of English 1A and little else.
Along came Corona and really made teaching and studenting a circus. “Oh,” it was said, “just switch to distance learning. Most of our students know how to do that.” On the Friday before the college was closed, I had a two-hour workshop in how to use a program called Canvas—which also contains Zoom, the program all news commentators now use to speak, through their networks, from home. Being the old curmudgeon that I am, I had never used or thought about either Canvas or Zoom. I tried to learn Canvas over the weekend but failed miserably. I tried over the next week with the help from a young colleague and figured out how to use the email function of Canvas so that I could write to my students and attach writing to their emails—Canvas, magically, knows all my students’ emails so that I can access them all at the click of a mouse. As you can see, it was a miserable way to communicate, let alone teach. Well, with each progressive week (thank God for spring break) my knowledge has grown—with the help of a tutor hired to help all the technologically handicapped faculty members (it turns out that there are many of us). I still have a long way to go to call myself competent or comfortable, but by the end of the semester I may get there. This week, I finally got to the point where I saw and talked to my students on Zoom. I found out that many of them are struggling as well.
The one thing I learned that’s positive is that Zoom is pretty cool. I turned 83 last weekend and my kids—who all know how to use Zoom, and most do every day in their various work—decided to throw me a family birthday party on zoom. It actually lasted for 4 hours. I still prefer my back yard, but I have to admit that it was like the next best thing. I also prefer the classroom to Zoom. I think that most of my students do, too.
Growing old has many surprises as I know you all appreciate. You might have a few of your own stories to tell, and I know that we would all enjoy hearing them. We would love to publish them in this spot. As everyone says these days, be careful and stay healthy.