Pedagogical care on the COVID campus: New resources from the authors in our higher education series

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In this guest post, Cyndi Kernahan (author of Teaching about Race and Racism in the College Classroom) and Jessamyn Neuhaus (author of Geeky Pedagogy) unveil Pedagogies of Care, a free multimedia resource from the authors in our series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Be careful what you wish for.

After years—literally, years—of advocating, negotiating, and campus-politicking, each of us got some exciting news this spring: we were appointed director of our colleges’ small teaching and learning center. In Cyndi’s case, the position came concurrently with the creation of the center itself, while Jessamyn assumed leadership of a center sorely in need of revitalization.

At last, here was the professional opportunity for which we’d worked so hard! Passionate about teaching and learning and about the scholarship of teaching and learning, we relished the chance to facilitate educational development efforts with our faculty.

And then, well, you know what happened.

We don’t need to rehash how COVID-19 has upended, disrupted, and begun to significantly (permanently?) change virtually everything about higher education. Suffice it to say that not one single solitary thing that we had hoped and planned to achieve in our new faculty developer roles looks like it did in January.

On top of grappling with how to pivot our own classes to emergency remote instruction, we have faced daunting questions about how in the world we were going to support and help our instructors in the months to come. For both of us, this is a part-time position (we continue to teach in our respective departments) in a center-of-one, with only occasional graduate or faculty fellow assistance. Unrealistic expectations from some understandably panicked faculty and administrators added to our worries. No, we really cannot create and facilitate extensive campus-wide training in online or hybrid or the much-misunderstood “hy-flex” course design, tailored to every discipline, in the next two weeks. Or even over the next two months.

Fortunately, even in the face of extreme uncertainty and constantly changing conditions for teaching and learning, educational developers in any size or type of center can continue to be effective. The secret weapon in educational development is a single thread, one specific message, that runs through the entire enterprise and it is simply this: you are not alone. If you know where to look, there are reflections, research, ongoing debates and conversations, and abundant resources everywhere to help instructors in all kinds of different teaching contexts build their skills to facilitate student learning. Carefully curating resources, connecting faculty with those resources, and empowering people to engage with and contribute to pedagogical communities of practice were always important parts of the educational developer’s job. Right now, they’re a lifeline.

In that spirit of extending a helping hand and sharing resources, the contributing authors of the West Virginia University Press series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, edited by James M. Lang, are proud to announce a brand-new collection of insights into effective teaching during this uniquely challenging time for educators: Pedagogies of Care: Open Resources for Student-Centered and Adaptive Strategies in the New Higher-Ed Landscape. In some truly inspiring all-hands-on-deck acts of generosity, authors created original content and, with the blessing of WVUP, are now making it all available free of charge to anyone who doesn’t want to go it alone. Not just educational developers but also any instructor looking for some advice and support in navigating the new normal can access the collection and discover new ideas and ways of moving forward.

For example, Jenae Cohn provides a quick and easy-to-use infographic on how instructors can help students to read more deeply in the digital environment. Josh Eyler and Sarah Rose Cavanagh contribute a 15-minute video with some practical and evidence-based tips for developing social and emotional presence in your classes. In all cases, contributors drew from the work they had already done in their writing to provide strong take-aways and ideas that can be used by any instructor. The project’s leader, Victoria Mondelli, explains how Pedagogies of Care emerged from the WVU crew’s distinctive pedagogical community of practice:

During March-Armageddon, I had so many colleagues reaching out for resources, support, and advice. We were all grappling to support the emergency pivot. The authors of the Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Series published by WVU Press emerged as a mutual support network with long tentacles on Twitter and other platforms. Hearing a common need among this group—“What else can we do?”—I conceived of an open collection of resources to share broadly through our extended networks and the press. The evidence-based practices we have all written about become even more essential in times of crisis and despair because they are a manifestation of care for our students. Care looks differently in our varied contexts, but it always begins with reflective educator-scholars taking teaching seriously.

She concludes that “this collection is for turbulent times and, I think, for the ages.”

These turbulent teaching times are taxing all of us in new and troubling ways. As always, the structural inequities baked into academia add big additional burdens on contingent, marginalized, and underrepresented faculty, not to mention the students themselves. Scholars of teaching and learning and educational developers aren’t fairy-tale vending machines dispensing magic bean solutions to the serious problems facing higher education. Hard things are hard. But what everyone can do, as exemplified in the Pedagogies of Care collection, is share our expertise and experience, keep talking to each other about what’s working and what’s not, make the connections, and always keep learning from each other about effective teaching.

You are not alone.

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