Adapting to the New Normal

by Cory Eno, Psychology and sociology project coordinator

In the last two weeks, life as we know it has fundamentally shifted. You don’t even have to be paying attention to the news or endlessly scrolling through social media to know that. We don’t need to be told about this seismic disturbance. We all feel the movement; the uncertainty is global.

In this surreal and fascinating time, we are seeing adoption of new norms almost overnight. This is arguably the first truly global crisis of the internet age, and our unique historical coordinates give us tools and competencies to confront sudden and serious problems with remarkable agility.

As educators, many of us are suddenly working from a position we were seriously not ready for. If you’ve been teaching online, or you’ve had some experience with telelearning, you may have some advice for those who see it as a daunting challenge or at least a major hurdle. Many are now asked to take the craft that they’ve passionately mastered in the physical classroom, and apply it to a medium that’s kind of uncomfortable. This can sap confidence at a time students need us to help model it.

If there is one thing I’d like instructors to keep in mind, it’s that technology is a tool. In this new normal, we have new needs. We also have the tools to take what was so good about the learning environments we painstakingly created in our classrooms and thoughtfully bring that to our students, wherever they are.

A strength of my classroom, and many of your classrooms as well, is opportunity for students to internalize. The concepts we introduce them to are so intimately connected to our everyday lives, and that is a strength in the new normal too. One silver lining here is the tag team of shared experience and exposure to new perspectives. We are all, suddenly, in a new social existence. I’m holed up with my dog, Enzo. Some are in crowded homes with strained wifi and interlopers like in-laws or the neighbor’s Goldendoodle. Some are out of work, and the last thing they care about is Abraham Maslow. There is empathy to be built here, and it’s the kind of engagement that connects students even while they’re apart.

“There is empathy to be built here, and it’s the kind of engagement that connects students even while they’re apart.”

We can facilitate this in a number of ways. I think the most effective is a chance to see each other, either as a class or in small groups. There is no shortage of teleconferencing solutions like Zoom, and there’s a lot of room for flexibility and creativity in using them. This is a chance to take concepts from your course and get students talking about them through the lens of this unprecedented experience. If you’re not comfortable recording
lectures, or giving them live, a conversational approach might be worth considering at a time when we’re being isolated so much. We can make great use of discussion boards for the same purpose, and we can even make ourselves available through virtual office hours through something as simple as a phone call.

In our personal lives, we’re all adjusting one day at a time. Take the same approach with your students from a distance. Give opportunities to check in, connect, and feel a little bit of structure and sanity for a while. Allow students to use the elephant in the room as an entry point to their study of the mind and behavior.

We’d love to hear the many ways in which you’re tackling this new normal. Reach out to psychology@hawkeslearning.com, or comment below so we can share your experience and expertise with the Hawkes community!

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