We will be O-K if we have to go on-line… one WSU faculty member’s perspective

WSU Cougs are tenacious; relentless even. When they set their minds toward a goal – they are hungry enough to fight for it, adjust as needed, and make it work.

I write this after 9pm on a Saturday night from Pullman, WA. I just got home a few hours ago after spending the past day+ alongside my 14yo son and five of his friends and SciBorg comrades at a First Robotics tournament at West Valley High School – one of many parents and volunteers supporting the Palouse Area Robotics Team (#4061) that found out just Thursday night that their event would proceed as planned.

Like many of my fellow Washington State University peer faculty and staff, we are glued to the WSU #COVID19 at-the-ready first responders website, waiting with bated breath for the next update of what comes next. Will we return to normal class sessions in Pullman on Monday? Should I prepare my in-class exercises and be ready to cover press releases and features in one class; Google Ads test campaign in the other? Should I plan for online alternatives, adjust my standing meetings to Zoom? Should I be buying multivitamins and bar soap en masse?! Do I need to plan on traveling to the west side of the state to pick up our 22yo son from Seattle and 19yo daughter from Bellingham? Yikes.

Pause. Breathe. Shhhhhhhhhhhh.

Alright. I am re-centered. First off – our kids on the west side are fine. Our son at the University of Washington is adjusting to online classes for the remainder of March. He is nervous about living in the epicenter but OK. Our daughter at Western Washington University is continuing with business-as-usual (B-A-U as it was called at a former employer) much like us here at WSU-Pullman. Her biggest concern is that the campus will shut down and classes will move online and she’ll lose her on-campus job at Zoe’s coffee and bagel shop. She will be OK. We have two more kiddos – both at Pullman High School – they are OK too.

So – that leaves me (Murrow College of Communication) and my husband (Carson College of Business) – and our respective students (he has 200+ in-person and I have 60). In reflection of all that has happened this past week with #COVID19 and the impact to higher education in Washington state — I am feeling confident that they, too, will be OK even if we have to shift all of the magic we create with our shiny in-person personalities to an online environment.

I designed my first online-only course in 2014. I have been teaching 1-4 online classes each semester ever since. I have gotten pretty good at it if I do say so myself. I acknowledge that teaching in-person vs. on-line is a very different experience for both instructor and students.

Personally, I believe I would be a terrible online student. It takes discipline, attention to detail, and determination to master this art. I am in awe of my online students because so many possess these traits. I am not diagnosed ADD but I am definitely derailed by shiny objects. I need to be held accountable or I stray… far. I honestly tend to mess around, get distracted, and find so many other things that are far more interesting than the task-at-hand if I don’t have a reason to focus. In my K-12 years I forced myself to sit at the front of the class as an act of self-discipline. Otherwise, I was at risk of being drawn into all the beauty and noise around me. I still have scars of Mrs. Gillaland’s red fingernails in my skull from forcing my head to turn around. But, I digress…

I believe that if tomorrow WSU mandated all current Pullman classes will need to adjust to online – we will be OK. Sorry it took me six paragraphs to say that, but I felt the build-up was necessary (and my undiagnosed ADD may or may not have played a role).

From my experience, WSU Cougs are tenacious; relentless even. When they set their minds toward a goal – they are hungry enough to fight for it, adjust as needed, and make it work. I love my Cougar-pups – these awesome, emerging, professional communicators ready to take on the world. They won’t let anything stop them. So, fellow WSU faculty, I encourage you to know that about them. They may struggle a little, but they will persevere.

I write this wearing a hooded sweatshirt created by one of my former classroom students and current TA and Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) Lead Samantha Schmitke – a Murrow senior studying strategic communication and graduating in May. She designed a logo and subsequent swag for the COMSTRAT 383 RSO (registered student organization) Health in Whitman County – a club we formed for our CCE projects so we could have access to do cool things on campus. The CCE Leads are the foundation of 383 this semester. My three student leaders meet with their teams every Wednesday during our normal class time without fail. What will happen to that dynamic if we can’t meet in-person? We’ll shift. We’ll set up Zoom or Facetime. It won’t be the same, but we’ll make it work and our CCE partners will get what they need, and the students will benefit from the experience.

In another class I am teaching I have 40 students working in 10 teams on a 6-part semester-long project. Eight-five percent (85%) of the work they complete as a team is done in-class using lab computers, whiteboards, and live coaching by me to achieve milestones. What will we do if we have to shift to 100% online? We will adjust and I am confident they will thrive. I think of it as a teachable moment like when a friend of mine worked for a company back in 2008. After the housing/banking crash, the company eliminated all of its brick-and-mortar operations. All of them were forced to move to telecommuting. They shifted. They survived and remain in this status now 12 years later. If my teams/lab-based course has to move online, so will the structure of all they do. They will meet virtually, present status reports via Zoom, and I will set up 1:1 coaching via web conference. They will be OK.

Some of my fellow faculty at WSU are not as equipped or prepared for quick adjustment from in-person to online. I understand their fear. It is not easy, but it is is doable. We all receive the emails but if you like a consolidated list, below are some resources. Please remember that you are not alone and you have ample support to be successful. A quick summary:

  • WSU Academic Outreach and Innovation have devoted staff and resources to ensure faculty feel supported and trained in Blackboard (learning management tool for course delivery and grading) and Panopto for lecture audio and video capture. They are offering training at 8:00 a.m., noon, and 4:00 p.m. daily in Spark 102 and through Zoom (contact for more info at aoi.li@wsu.edu or the dedicated WSU Events page.
  • Check out Murrow journalism and mass media Clinical Assistant Professor Lisa Waananen Jones’ terrific piece for the Medium called “3 Tips for Teaching Online (when you weren’t planning to)”
  • Stay informed and current on all developments at WSU regarding the impact of the coronavirus at their COVID-19 site

Like everyone else wearing this hat, I do not know what is to come. My students stand in wait, eager to know how they should proceed. As of now I will return to campus on Monday. I will walk one group of students through online newrooms, writing a news release, and putting their latest podcast recordings into a cohesive finished piece. In my other class they will learn how to create and place Google Ads and design digital campaigns using five different web-based tools. My two other online classes will proceed as planned. In tandem I will pay attention, listen, be empathetic and mindful. I will elbow-bump students, wash my hands, and be respectful of the fact there is angst, uncertainty, and fear are present in the classroom.

But no matter what, I will not stop until WSU administration says I have to. I will keep teaching in whatever format I have to use. I will deliver the material, connect with the students, and keep going. Join me on this quest. We are too strong to stop now.

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