This week:

  • I describe a new effort to collect pandemic-coping stories.
  • Do you teach about Ukraine? Our colleague wants to hear from you.
  • I share readers’ awkward student-evaluation comments.
  • I remind you of two virtual forums that Beckie and I are moderating.

Pandemic Pivots

What has kept you going during the pandemic? That question animates a new national project, run by a psychology professor at Oregon State University, that aims to learn how college students, staff, and faculty members have dealt with adversity during the past two years.

The Bright Side Project is the brainchild of Regan Gurung, who has spent his career studying stress and coping, including student mental health. He came up with the idea after being struck by the creativity of his students in a course he had created and taught, “Punch Through the Pandemic With Psychological Science.” Nearly 4,000 people, including 200 Oregon State students, have taken the course since he created it two years ago.

“In that class students shared how they were coping. There was a lot of variety, and not surprisingly, hearing how others coped provided hope to those listening,” he said in an email interview. Through the new project, Gurung wants to provide examples “of how people have been rolling with the punches of the pandemic to build community, remind people that they are not alone, and to provide some new options for them to cope.”

The project divides the pandemic into four parts: the pivot, which covers the spring of 2020; going remote, which covers the 2020-21 academic year; the return, in the fall of 2021; and now. Each part of the pandemic has had distinct challenges, he noted.

Participants are encouraged to submit responses in a variety of ways, including photos, essays, memes, music, and infographics. “I want to hear of new hobbies, new ways to schedule, and new modes of expression that may not have come about if not catalyzed by the pandemic,” Gurung said.

While many people want to put the pandemic behind them as quickly as possible, Gurung argues that there is long-term value in understanding effective coping strategies.

“The pandemic alerted us to the fact that we have to be prepared for major shifts in the fabric of day-to-day life,” he said. “Judging from how difficult it was to ‘pivot’ two years ago, it is clear that higher education was not nimble. We have to be more prepared for bumps in the road. There are many changes that faculty made in how they taught, and how they philosophically approached teaching and learning. We need to capitalize on this, and I hope the faculty stories in particular provide insights on how we can improve higher education.”

I have been thinking about how faculty members and students are coping, as well. I’ve noted in recent newsletters that many professors are reporting relatively high levels of disengagement in class even though students say they are glad to be back on campus. Gurung referred to that as the “allostatic load, the health-psych term given to the accumulation of wear and tear.”

Most people can cope with short-term stress, he said, “but the chronic long-term stress that is the pandemic is a lot for even the strongest.” Add to that racial-justice issues, the war in Ukraine, and other stressors, and it’s no surprise that some people might feel more overwhelmed than ever.

If you’d like to contribute to Gurung’s project, you can find details here. And if you’d like to share a few of your coping strategies with Teaching readers, write to me, at beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com, and your ideas may appear in a future newsletter.

Teaching About Ukraine

My colleague Karin Fischer, who writes The Chronicle’s newsletter on global education, Latitudes, has been covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impact on, and implications for, higher education. Now she’d like to hear from you. She writes:

As the fighting in Ukraine plays out nightly on cable news, I’m curious how it is affecting the classroom. Professors, I’d like to hear about the ways that you’ve been teaching about the conflict. Have you incorporated new readings into your syllabus or changed up your lesson plans? Are there prompts that have led to engaging or insightful class discussions? If you have Russian or Ukrainian students in your courses, does it affect your approach? I’m interested in hearing from faculty members whose courses focus on the history or politics of the region, of course, but I’d also love to hear about how professors are integrating these current events into a wide range of subjects. Email me, at karin.fischer@chronicle.com, and you could be highlighted in my next newsletter. Latitudes publishes every Wednesday.

Awkward Student Evals

The other week I shared a McSweeney’s satire that imagined what Jesus’ negative student evaluations would look like. I asked: What are some funny, strange, or awkward comments you’ve received over the years? Readers, you did not disappoint. Here are a few of the responses:

“She handles the class very well, just like a man would!”

“This guy comes dressed with his tie tied below his throat like a car dealer going for happy hour on a Friday.”

“He is harder than woodpecker lips, but he cares!”

In response to the question “What can the instructor do to improve their teaching?” A student wrote: “Don’t be pregnant.”

I was teaching a course about early-childhood education, and the comment said something like: “Stop saying ‘kids’! You are talking about young humans, not baby goats!”

“She’s a decent teacher, but why does she dress like a gypsy?”

Back in the days when I still had enough hair for a ponytail (I was in my early 50s): “Instructor is very cynical when he knows nobody is paying attention. He should dye his hair black.” When I was a gray-haired full prof at Illinois about 10 years ago: “Weirdest sense of humor I’ve ever seen in a prof, but not perverted, as far as I could tell.”

In response to a question about what could improve student learning in the course, one student wrote simply, “more cowbell.” Since I taught the same group of students the following semester (in a sequenced German-language course), I brought a cowbell to class before the next round of student evaluations.

“The teacher should really lecture more … it would save a lot of time and thinking.”

Coming Virtual Events

Tomorrow Beckie and I will be moderating the third in our Talking About Teaching virtual-event series. The topic will be the future of grading and assessment. Sign up here to join, and to watch previous events on demand.

On Monday, March 28, we will be moderating another virtual event, on how college leaders can encourage a move to active learning on their campuses. You can sign up here.

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.

—Beth

Learn more about our Teaching newsletter, including how to contact us, at the Teaching newsletter archive page.