In April I wrote about Writing and Research in the Summer of the Pandemic because I know a lot of academics look forward to summer as a time when they can make that their primary focus. My focus there was on the writing and research itself. What you can do. How stress and uncertainty affect your ability to focus and motivate yourself. How hard it is to write when everyone in your household is also at home. That kind of thing. I talked about how writing and research are meaningful to you and how to lower your expectations without losing that meaningful work.
I’ll be leading a Planning Your Summer class in the Academic Writing Studio on Friday 15 May at 10 Eastern/3 UK (your time zone). This class is only available to Studio members. You can join for as little as £33/year.
Being prepared for the new academic year
One of the other things that may be making it hard for you to make writing and research a priority in the way you might in a normal summer is the uncertainty about what’s happening with teaching in the autumn. After all, preparing for the new academic year is also one of the important activities you do in the summer. Having your teaching prepared is not a precondition for resting, recharging, and writing over the summer. You need to fit it in, but you don’t want it to take over.
Putting teaching preparation in a container is crucial to getting the rest you need and having time to focus on research and writing. In a normal summer, I suggest creating that container at the end of the summer as much as possible because that creates a natural limit to the time you give it. There is always some work you need to do at the beginning of the summer, including figuring out how big a container you need at the end of the summer. I’ve created some worksheets for members of the Academic Writing Studio to help them figure out what kind of preparation they need to do, how much, and when. One of those is about figuring out how much time you need to devote to teaching preparation during the summer and when you need to do which activities. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you will also be able to download those worksheets.
The effect of pandemic uncertainty
The heightened uncertainty about your autumn teaching this year makes it hard to know how much time you will need. It is unlikely that your autumn teaching will be “normal” so you probably need to do different kinds of preparation and that might take a different amount of time. But at this point in the year, that’s about all you know. No one has made any decisions yet. Until they do, you can’t really prepare. The question is, how you can ease your anxiety about how prepared you will be to do that preparation when you do know what you need to prepare for?
I suggest a variation on the structure of the handout.
- Sketch out (in broad terms) the likely scenarios and what kind of preparation would be required.
- Work out if any decisions must be made early in the summer (i.e. things that would need approval from someone else) or if there are some decisions you could make now that would work in any scenario.
- Sketch out broadly what kind of preparation each likely scenario would need and estimate how much time you’d have to allocate.
- Determine a date when you need to decide whether to start doing that preparation.
- Then set it aside and focus on other things.
If your date comes up and you haven’t got more institutional clarity, you can make a new plan. And when you get institutional clarity, you know which plan to activate. (I will add a question to the monthly review email for newsletter subscribers to remind you to reassess. You won’t forget to prepare your teaching.)
Also assess your own professional development needs.
Are there things you need to learn more about or skills do you need to develop to make those scenarios less daunting? You are not alone in needing to develop your knowledge and skills for remote learning. Spending some time now figuring out a professional development plan will be worth while. Don’t try to do everything. Focus on the skill or area of knowledge that will make the most difference for you.
How will you fit that in while still given priority to rest and writing?
- Allocate some time each week? (A day? a half-day? an hour?)
- If your institution is offering workshops, figure out which ones are most relevant and plan to attend them.
- If you learn better in a group, contact colleagues (at your own institution or elsewhere) and figure out how you can effectively work together. Maybe you have complementary knowledge and skills you can share?
Addressing the skills and knowledge that make you most worried and making a plan for preparation should make the task of preparing for autumn more manageable and less overwhelming. Once you have those plans in place, you can turn your attention to resting and recharging (always a priority over the summer) and research and writing.
Some useful resources
I have not done a thorough search or anything but I have come across a few things that might be useful. There are other useful resources out there. Ask around. Use the resources your institution provides. Talk to your own networks.
This webinar by Ian Milligan gives a good sense of what you might be aiming for if you are still doing emergency remote teaching in the autumn: Navigating the Shift to Emergency Remote Teaching
Liz Lerman has created a page with resources for using her critical response process (which I love and has greatly influenced my approach to peer review) in online teaching. If feedback and discussion is what you would most like to learn how to do well in online teaching take a look at these: Critical Response Process Resources
Small Teaching Online is a book recommended to me by someone who works in learning support helping people like you figure out what to do.
Teaching Online: A guide to theory, research, and practice by Claire Howell Major seems to address some of the big picture shifts required. (open acess)
A Twitter follower recommended this site: Emergency Online
Written in the before-times but good reminders that the key to teaching preparation is to focus on what you want students to learn and your overall teaching philosophy.
A version of this post was also sent to my newsletter. It has been lightly edited (mostly formatting) and related posts added. Most recent update to the resource list 17 May 2020.