The feeling around campus on Wednesday, March 11 was a somber one. Students and faculty at UNO had already received word of a trial remote day on the oncoming Thursday, where our university would test its educational capabilities strictly online as facilities on campus remained open. By Wednesday afternoon, with national surmounting panic regarding the COVID-19 (coronavirus) potential pandemic, UNO officials followed the path of universities nationwide, and declared that the higher ed facility be facilitated strictly online until further notice.
Spring may be 10 days away but the idea of a healthy resurgence, one of new life and hope, seems distant. Even the Driftwood has been affected – with two of our own being afflicted with flu-like symptoms the print edition has been tabled indefinitely and our publication is exclusively digital for the interim.
Those joyful days of on-campus (and off-campus) Mardi Gras celebrations and back-to-school jitters seem like a distant memory. Three days ago, this author attended an on-campus meeting and stared at the Liberal Arts Building from afar with a nostalgia in my heart. It was only last week I was there talking about the ramblings of Laurence Sterne with my classmates and comrades and cherished professor, Dr. Daniel Doll.
While I appreciate UNO’s leadership for taking the proper precautions, I can’t help but feel sad and isolated from faces I’ve come to look forward to seeing. It’s been hard enough to let go of those who graduated last semester. Maybe it’s the Pisces in me, but I think of deep conversations I had with people I was friends with last Fall or times I laughed with people at this school about something weird a professor said and I feel no online class could ever fulfill that joy for me.
Some people I see on campus frequently, and while I may not necessarily know them personally or by name, they are a huge part of my student experience. The staff at PJ’s in the UC, the friendly Earl K. Long library help desk folks, the guardians of the UC behind their fun decorated Macbooks, my bus driver on the 55 Elysian Field bus route.
And I’m not alone.
“I’m glad UNO is taking precautionary measures to keep students healthy and safe during this chaotic and stressful time. As a grad student, this is bittersweet for me since this is my last semester in the classroom, and I’ll miss classroom discussion. But again, I’m glad UNO President Nicklow is prioritizing students and their health and ensuring that their education will continue regardless,” said Chelsea Armstrong, a graduate student in the English MA program.
“I’m worried that one of the biggest things is that a graduation ceremony may not be happening, and I’m not sure if my thesis defense will have to be through Skype,” added Lauren Dehart, another English graduate student.
Joanna Leake, Professor Emeritus in the Creative Writing MFA program, noted that she was cognizant of legal liabilities that affect teaching courses in-person during a time such as this. “My take is that I very much prefer a face to face, in person discussion. But, to quote the Rolling Stones, ‘You can’t always get what you want.’ So I hope we can build on the personal connections we’ve made in the first part of the semester and make the online conversations work,” she mused.
Creative writing professors and liberal arts folks aren’t the only ones concerned. Dr. Ivan Gill, science education coordinator in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education at UNO, acknowledges that lab-centric courses such as physics and chemistry will undoubtedly be affected.
“Laboratory investigation, taught in conjunction with classroom activities, is a tradition in science teaching. Done well, it is consistent with educational reform movements and can be used to teach both techniques and problem solving. In my view, the general deemphasis on laboratories in science teaching is a mistake: if anything, laboratories could be placed first to introduce topics, explore phenomena, teach techniques, that are then explored more deeply in lecture and discussion sections,” he stated.
“My own classes in science teaching are meant to be experiential and driven by exploration. The change to an on-line format will necessarily lose elements that are really important. It will be a challenge. That said, many on-line techniques are very powerful and versatile. Converting some of the laboratory work to on-line, if done well, could still be very useful.”
A few years ago, I remember the popularity of “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters, with all sorts of vernacular variables like “Keep Calm and Drink Coffee” (does that work for anyone?) or “Keep Calm and Listen to [Insert Band Name Here].”
Originally, this poster was circulated throughout Great Britain in 1939 as the nation prepared for World War II. It was meant to raise the morale of British citizens, who were already exhausted and ravaged as a people by World War I.
This social media fever dream, where everyone is glued to their phones and endless news broadcasts, feels like we’re doing just the opposite. It’s almost impossible to keep calm and carry on with our daily lives. We’re even sequestering ourselves away from our dearest friends and families, our daily rituals and routines.
Before I left campus the other day, not knowing when I would return, I stared at my favorite place on all of our 195 acres. Those aquamarine fountains surrounded by trees and pine straw and a few sparse picnic tables. My first lunch at UNO I sat there alone and ate a Chartwell’s PB&J and watched little lizards scampering about while students with their backpacks passed by. I had felt anxious and scared about this new life at UNO approaching me head on and I feel anxious and scared about change now. But I guess all I can do for the time being is do my best to keep calm and carry on in light of the uncertainty in days ahead.
Joanna Leake of the Creative Writing Program is on to something. “You can’t always get what you want,” sang the Rolling Stones, “But if you try sometime, you might find you get what you need.”