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Recommended readings in pandemic times: TLS staff’s professional and personal “picks”

The disruption caused by COVID-19 has resulted in an abundance of publications on a wide range of pandemic-related topics. Like many of you, I subscribe to several listservs and blogs, and colleagues have been emailing me links to interesting readings and videos. Information has been flowing rapidly. While I am eager to engage with all this information, its sheer quantity has felt overwhelming. I wondered … when information overload is such that even skimming is not possible, how might I make decisions about what to read? I needed a strategy for prioritizing which resources to access.

With the library and bookstore “staff picks” practice in mind, I invited my colleagues to recommend a reading or other resource, such as a video or webinar recording, that they have found to be worth reading (or viewing) during this crisis, either for professional or personal reasons. Along with each recommendation, colleagues were asked to include a brief explanation for why they found it worth accessing. I offered one of my own recommendations to get the ball rolling: In ‘Keep Calm and Go Online,’ a “Comparing in-person and remote learning activities” table makes it simple to see that moving teaching into a remote environment is do-able without starting from scratch.

On a professional note, colleagues had these suggestions:

Jennie Ferris, Academic Associate

“Flower Darby’s post ‘5 low-tech, time-saving ways to teach online during Covid-19’ offers advice for how to think about course time in remote teaching differently from time in the classroom. I appreciated her suggestion to focus online interactions so they connect clearly to course learning outcomes. She speaks to the benefits of using features of your university’s learning management system (myCourses here at McGill), such as quizzes and discussion boards, as ways to check students’ understanding of course materials and engage in rich discussion during the remote teaching and learning experience.”

Laura Winer, Director

“I found ‘Videoconferencing Alternatives: How Low-Bandwidth Teaching Will Save Us All’ to be level-headed and actionable. Figuring out how to actually move forward with remote teaching in a reasonable way was useful.”

Mariela Tovar, Senior Academic Associate

“I really appreciated the reminder in ‘Please do a bad job of putting your courses online’ that we are transitioning to remote learning in the context of a crisis that is affecting our lives in many ways. Therefore, we have to put our expectations of ourselves and our students into perspective.”

Mariela’s choice resonated strongly with me and reminded me of a blog post I read that I thought other academics might find comforting. In ‘2 principles guiding my reluctant online conversion,’ the author writes, “Like most academics, I have been an overachiever and perfectionist all my life.” Alas, I could have written that. The disruption to classes has called upon many of us in higher education to turn on a dime—or ‘pivot,’ as one now frequently hears, resulting in work that is not always up to our usual standard. The author’s principle, “I will not allow perfect to be the enemy of good” is a comforting affirmation for me that “doing the best I can” can be good enough in the current circumstances.

On a personal note, colleagues offered these recommendations:

Sandrine Hoindo-Donkpegan, Human Resources and Finance Officer

“I like ‘Lessons from Space: An astronaut’s guide for braving COVID-19’ as it calls for us to think beyond the pandemic, focus on what’s essential, be socially responsible citizens by avoiding food waste, (I would include any kind of waste) and respecting others’ desire to be in their ‘bubble’ when they feel like it. There are many more sound tips.”

Laura Winer

“Way back when this ‘remote’ lifestyle was new, I found myself feeling very unsettled and not sure of what exactly the emotions I was feeling were. And since I believe, ‘If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it,’ I found the article ‘That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief’ to be very helpful. Acknowledging the grief allowed me to cope with it much better than trying to deal with an amorphous set of emotions. Grief gets easier to bear, but the loss is always a loss, and we will definitely see this as a marker in our lives, individually and societally.

Jennie Ferris

“When I’m confronted with a challenge, my reflex is to make a lengthy to-do list and plow forward; reading ‘Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure’ encouraged me to instead take a step back and take stock. Prof. Aisha Ahmad’s writing balances compassion and a no-nonsense tone as she offers ways to manage one’s own expectations and well-being in a time of flux. She identifies three stages: finding security, making a mental shift, and embracing a new normal.”

What strategies do you have for prioritizing the resources you access during this time of information overload? What resources can you recommend that have particularly resonated with you?

Senior Academic Associate at McGill's Teaching and Learning Services.; former Senior Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre; area of specialization: Second Language Education; loves teaching and learning; will work for chocolate (Photo credit: Owen Egan)

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