Doing the Next Right Thing: Diana Arya 4-24-2020

Friday, April 24, 2020
Stepping stones
Education and Applied Psychology in a Time of COVID-19

Do you feel that time is speeding up or slowing down? This is what one undergraduate student asked this week during our live session meeting. After a moment of silent contemplation, we came to the consensus that time is both speeding up and slowing down. The ways that we move from one moment to the next have changed dramatically . . . time spent commuting has been replaced with more frequent check-ins across programs and scheduled office hours for the first time in my professional life. The constant stream of remote chats, texts, emails, etc. combined with the removal of many of the routines that served as punctuation for our daily lives can blur the days and weeks in such a way that I cannot believe that we are about half way through our spring quarter. At the same time, each moment of exchange seems to slow down the clock; frozen speakers in mid-sentence with the occasional headache of having to reconnect with meetings in progress would have challenged the patience of a Buddhist monk. Time seems to be moving differently for us because we are moving through time in a very different way. For anyone interested in a real mind-bending read, check out the best seller by Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time.

Teaching a relatively large undergraduate course (70 enrollees) has been challenging, but not in the ways I was expecting. I expected to be concerned about late assignments, absences, and general lethargy from students who are juggling multiple responsibilities including paying rent in a jobless economy. Instead, I find that my worries are focused on students who have not responded within a 48-hour period after repeated requests for response. Is this student living alone? Are they okay? Can they breathe? Do they need help? The need to maintain connections every week has become the most important aspect of my instructional role.

I created a group project assignment to be the main goal of our practicum course (ED124) with the original intention of giving upper division undergraduates opportunities to engage with local youth in various afterschool programs. In four-person groups, students work on a common theme or topic to create a resource or activity event for local families with children stuck at home. My intention was to help create new resources and outlets for our families while also giving our students some semblance of an experience that I would hope my students would have in a practicum course. The technological tools and programs available offer a wide range of possible projects including podcasts, instructional videos, and live sessions, some of which are illustrated in our first CBL newsletter. I have come to realize that regardless of the potential value produced from this course, these group projects have been invaluable in making sure that everyone is safe and healthy.

Members of groups have been in touch when one of their members is not responding to emails or joining scheduled Zoom chats. We have so many students living alone in their apartments, and even more caring for sick family members. When a student is not responding to messages for more than two days, our class has an agreement that they let me or one of my TAs know. I’m still waiting to hear back from a student who has been MIA for about a week.

While the ever-present, underlying stress and anxiety wears us thin, we keep moving to "the next right thing" (to quote Anna from the more recent Frozen movie) . . . .

Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing
I won't look too far ahead
It's too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I'll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing
And, with it done, what comes then?
When it's clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I'll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing.

Diana J. Arya is Assistant Professor in Education and Faculty Director of the McEnroe Reading and Language Arts Clinic. She studies the development of community-based, interdisciplinary literacy practices of learning and innovation from preadolescence through adulthood.