do try this at home

SFU has decided to run all summer courses remotely so I’m having to rethink HIST 417 W: Problems in Modern French History-The “Dark Years,” 1940-44. Much of the course content and structure will still work in theory, but I want to change things up, make time for students to read, think, write, discuss with more flexibility throughout the week. And adjust assignments to make them more engaging and user-friendly, to make better use of online tech and platforms.

Am also making a list called “Do Try This at Home” of assignment ideas specifically designed with these quarantimes in mind…

One idea I’ve had so far is to ask my students to write and record a voice-over narration for one of the MANY silent newsreel clips available online. Here are a couple of examples:

home’s cool

We are in pandemic. All of us. The whole world. And SFU’s instruction has moved online. For the rest of the term and the foreseeable future. It’s been over a week since the University made the decision to end face-to-face classes. I gave my HIST 319 students a week to get their bearings. And I needed time to figure out how to end the semester too. I’ll be doing narrated PowerPoint lectures, a weekly live discussion, and they will submit their remaining assignments via Canvas as we’d planned before. I am learning some new skills and feeling very strange about teaching, about the present–let alone the future–of work…and so many other things.


less is more. duh.

Last week, we had a snow day at SFU. It was a Tuesday, the day I teach from 11:30-16:30 straight, a double lecture for 2 hrs and 50 mins, followed by two tutorial sections that I run, each lasting 50 minutes.

A snow day felt like a crisis at first. There are only 13 weeks in a term here as it is. There was the weekly reading quiz on the textbook, I was supposed to get through the whole of the Second Empire and Paris Commune in lecture somehow, and my students had a chunk of Zola’s The Belly of Paris to read for tutorial. I had also planned to workshop their first written assignments on the Zola with them. These short assignments were supposed to be due the Friday after class. via Canvas.

So I worried. And tried to think about how I was going to fix it. A double quiz the following week? Skype or Google Hangout tutorials to discuss the assignment? Skipping some key part of nineteenth-century France in lecture, or squishing things together to get us caught up quick, before it was too late, before all was LOST!

Then I changed gears. I decided to cut it out. I wrote to my students and told them we would just pretend time had folded and pick up where we left off the next week. They could have more time with their assignments, we’d still get to talk about them in class, they’d do one quiz this coming week. And we’d do the catching up during the period that will include out Reading Break here in mid-February.

And then I breathed like I rarely breathe when I am thinking about work. I gave them a break, and I gave myself a break, and the whole thing felt so humane.

We’ll get through the nineteenth century. They’ll get their assignments done. We’ll catch up on what matters. I usually pick intensity and frenzy and the path of most resistance when it comes to giving myself more to do and worry about, in less and less time. This round, I chose something else. And none of my students seem to mind. And damn it feels good.