Turn Your Hardship into Scholarship: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Maria Gallardo-Williams, SoTL Faculty Fellow, Office for Faculty Excellence and Teaching Professor, Department of Chemistry

When I look back to pre-COVID times I can’t help but marvel at how naive we were about our futures as educators. At that time we had choices; we could teach online or teach in person, and it was acceptable to prefer one over the other, even to rationalize why our choice was superior to the alternative. Although we had academic continuity committees and task forces, they always seemed like a thought exercise more than an actual possibility. Thinking about having to close our doors for a week was such a far-fetched idea at the time that we had to be convinced to entertain such thoughts.

All of that changed in the Spring of 2020, and as a result we (all of us, every educator on the planet, the scale of which I still struggle to comprehend) had to pivot* into some sort of online teaching and learning scenario. The range of responses was astounding. In my own Department I saw 5 lab instructors come up with 5 different ways to teach labs online, in a hurry. Each and every one of those ways contained elements that were novel and that addressed the issue in front of us. What we couldn’t imagine had happened: our teaching labs were closed and we didn’t know when we would be able to reopen them. We had to keep going, in the absence of all we knew, and we did.

Since then our lives have been turned upside down by a global, unprecedented, unforeseen event. We hoped that things would go “back to normal” for a while and then we settled down and realized that back to normal might never happen. We all changed. Not just the lab instructors in my department, but every single one of us changed and adapted. Some did it with gusto and some did it reluctantly, but we all came up with ways to overcome the distance imposed by the COVID-19 threat.

I would like you to think about the changes that you made to adapt your course to remote online delivery, and consider sharing some of those changes with the larger education community. There is value in your journey of teaching in these times. Maybe you don’t think that others will learn from it, but there is a need to know what others have done, and our unique experiences need to be reflected in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning literature.

So, here’s an official invitation to share the outcomes of your pandemic teaching with the rest of us. Look at what you did, consider the problems you solved (your research question) and how you addressed them (your methods). Gather evidence about student outcomes and tell us how things turned out (your results and discussion). You could turn that information into a presentation for the OFE’s Teaching and Learning Symposium or an educational conference (like the upcoming Online Lilly Conference, for which we have free registrations available). You could write it up for a SoTL journal, or a discipline-specific educational journal. And, if you need help, please reach out to us. We have a yearly SoTL Institute, we share SoTL resources all year round on this blog, but we are also available for one-on-one consultations if you would like to chat with one of us. It’s time to share what we learned and to build the body of knowledge that will result from this disruption to the educational system. Don’t miss the opportunity to be a part of that movement.

*I would like to officially petition for the removal of the word pivot from our lexicon, never to be used again to avoid triggering educators all over the world.