Far Away TA: Cameron Dexter Torti 4-7-2020

Monday, April 13, 2020
illustration of people on computer keyboard

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Education and Applied Psychology in a Time of COVID-19

(Week of April 6):
"Sweater weather" may be the appropriate title for this entry, as the chilly, windy, and rainy conditions that have alternated over the past week have made staying home a little bit tougher this week, with vitamin D in shorter supply and the stretches of going outside being shorter than earlier weeks in quarantine.

Last quarter, being a TA for Dr. Roberts and her ED 137: Equity in STEM Education course was a great way to start the week, with Monday classes and Tuesday office hours. I would typically arrive on campus, double-check materials were ready to roll for class, and go right into the class sessions. I am fortunate enough to have a TAship this quarter, and along with Tomy Nguyen, have been working with Dr. Sarah Roberts and her ED 150: Teaching and Teachers course. This TAship, along with my coursework, provides structure to my week and, at the very least, forces me to get ready for some professional, human interactions every day of the week.

One challenge that came from the first two weeks of class involved the constant fight for legitimizing online course work. Many students voiced concerns they had over online course work in their introductions and during their first sessions on Zoom. It is easy to see how the course has not changed drastically from what the in-person version would have entailed. Specifically, many of the same structures in place to provide opportunities for interaction with content and each other are the same: assigned readings, forum posts, class time dedicated to small group and whole class conversations, and writing assignments meant to elicit thoughtful reflection of the course's major themes.

However, despite reassurances and our best efforts to prepare, some students are finding it difficult to break through the digital barriers present in our current format. And I totally get it.

I miss the shoulder-to-shoulder interactions, being able to read the room and body language, and even just the energy from being in a room buzzing with conversation (usually about the content). Those interactions and that energy are part of what feeds my own energy as a teacher, so the absence of that has been the most difficult part.

I am heartened by the interactions that are occurring in the online classroom, even from some students who are expressing concerns regarding the format. Students are diving into the readings, and putting thoughtful prompts on Gauchospace for their group members to read. The student-led conversations are then moving straight into class sessions, and groups are diving deeper into their conversations around the content. Without a doubt, that has been my favorite part of this quarter so far—I came to UCSB to research teacher education and preparation, and when I see the work being done by the future teachers in our course, it brightens my day and brings me something close to that energy I thrive on.

This upcoming week, I am hopeful to begin to help students see their perceptions of online learning environments. I believe reflective teaching practices are important and in the same regard, through weekly reflections after section, students are hopefully beginning to feel the depths in which they are participating in a thriving learning environment.

Cameron Dexter Torti is a first-year PhD student in the Department of Education at GGSE. He previously taught in classrooms ranging from elementary self-contained to high school social studies for six years in California, Texas, and Louisiana. He is currently "safer-at-home" in San Diego, where he and his wife are subletting part of the living room from their cats for "work from home" spaces.