, AND EMPATHY IN MANAGING CHANGE DURING PANDEMIC
In this article by Professor Byron K. Hargrove, PhD, Professor of Social Sciences, Berkeley College Division of General Education, and Director, Berkeley College Honors Program, Hargrove writes about what he has learned teaching college students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two central lessons I found to be extremely helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic have to do with being more open and adaptive to online learning and finding ways to be uber responsive, flexible and caring with my students.
Lesson #1: Maintain an Attitude of Adaptation
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 really tested the resolve and adaptability of many college professors, staff and students. One of the biggest lessons I learned as a college professor from the COVID-19 pandemic has to do with embracing the right mindset in times of peace and crisis. In hindsight, I believe my general attitude or openness to trying online learning and my willingness to adapt really saved me during the COVID crisis. Despite my initial reluctance and initial criticisms over our College’s historically heavy online administrative oversight for every online course, I adapted and began teaching social sciences courses both online and on site in 2015. I was asked by a department chair to develop curriculum for a new applied psychology online course for the College. Surprisingly, I found that there were strengths to both modalities. My attitude shift and new training experiences helped me to improve my on-site teaching and reinvigorated my interest in teaching. Transitioning from the Blackboard to Canvas learning management system within 18 months in 2018; having spirited pedagogical debates with my colleagues; and teaching our students using both online and hybrid formats helped me see the value of constantly being adaptable, intentional, and open to trying out new online tools to better engage our students in our current digital world.
Consequently, unlike many of my colleagues at other institutions, I was among a group of online faculty who were more comfortable, experienced and better prepared for the sudden pivot to ALL online courses when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world of higher education. Since I was already teaching both on-site and online course, the “shock and awe” of the COVID-19 transition was minimal for me at work. Since my on-site courses essentially ran like hybrid courses with various CANVAS tools, the transition to fully online was, again, minimal. The only real significant change and addition to my repertoire was Zoom. Before COVID-19, I did not know what Zoom was and often overlooked the Zoom button. Now, I cannot imagine my courses or other meetings with colleagues without it. I use Zoom to record lectures and to provide virtual office hours each week. Interestingly, I have had more office hour visits using Zoom in one term than I ever did while I was holding on-site office hours for years! Thus, I am very glad Berkeley College invested in this technological trend years ago and provided the necessary infrastructure and training required to pivot to an online environment. That vision along with a positive attitude of openness and adaptation helped me adjust to my new work life during the pandemic.
Lesson #2: Find Ways to Show That You are Responsive, Flexible and Caring
A second lesson I learned was the high impact of being uber responsive, flexible and caring with my students during the pandemic. COVID-19 has hit many homes and hurt many people, organizations and industries. For me, I have had a harder time coping with my home life than my work life. I constantly deal with many new work-life issues, including how best to manage dual career responsibilities, family health concerns, multiple kids’ remote learning schedules, work-home boundaries and personal space needs, mental and physical health, or feelings of isolation and being trapped. Although we did not have COVID-19 infections in our home, I know of many people and students who had to console family members and friends with the death, illness and isolation caused by COVID-19. Many of our own students are dealing with the same issues as parents and as children of parents impacted by COVID-19.
When we pivoted to the online format, I made sure that responsiveness was my guiding principle. I constantly checked my email and used my CANVAS app and Outlook app to receive and reply to any messages from students both day and night. I wanted to make sure they had a direct line with me despite being online. I often got messages of appreciation like, “thanks for getting back to me so fast,” and many students documented the effectiveness of this approach in my course evaluations. My students felt heard, attended to and respected. Simply communicating in a timely manner can make a world of difference for anxious or confused students.
Along with responsiveness, I believe a simple touch of being flexible and caring goes a long way with helping our students. For example, I would often be flexible with my deadlines and provide extensions where necessary. One change that had a positive impact on students in my 15-week courses was the replacement of the weekly graded discussions during Weeks 5, 10, and 15 with “Free-Chat” discussions. Instead of requiring discussion posts focused on chapter content or additional research, I used the discussion forums as safe spaces for students to share their highs and lows during the week. What my students were sharing blew me away. I learned so much about their personal tragedies with COVID-19, aspirations and accomplishments, and worries. Many of them spoke about life events rather than course content. It also seemed that they appreciated hearing and sharing these things with each other. Given my counseling psychology background, I am aware of the importance of allowing people to vent, especially during a time of crisis. This was indeed therapeutic for my students and it helped them remain engaged in the course content and with each other.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many colleges and universities to operate in a crisis management mode. I am thankful that Berkeley College was forward thinking enough to embrace the trend toward online learning. More importantly, I am glad that I embraced this change years ago and was open to learning more about how to best utilize online learning tools so that I could comfortably engage with my students while still being myself. I was prepared and comfortable when COVID arrived. Based on my course evaluations and grade center, it appears that my students enjoyed my courses and learned a lot despite the stressful changes caused by the pandemic. I believe that my positive attitudes about online learning along with my willingness to be responsive, flexible, and caring in my emails, posts, and types of assignments made a difference with my students. I encourage other faculty to employ these lessons in their own ways. I will continue to execute these lessons even when we return to campus.
About Byron K. Hargrove, PhD
Byron K. Hargrove, PhD, is Professor of Social Sciences, Berkeley College Division of General Education, and Director, Berkeley College Honors Program who teaches social science undergraduate courses. He is a member of the Berkeley College Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Task Force. Hargrove is the author of the article “Five Ways to Boost Student Engagement,” published by eCampus News. Hargrove also chairs doctoral dissertations for the Executive Leadership Doctoral Program at Iona College. He has published articles on career counseling, career development and mentoring, and is a reviewer for Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, a peer-reviewed, English language journal published six times per year by the American Psychological Association. Hargrove received his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Counseling Psychology from the University of Maryland at College Park.
About Berkeley College
Berkeley College, founded in 1931, is a career-focused institution accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education that offers students Master’s, Bachelor’s, and Associate’s degree and Certificate programs in more than 20 career fields. The College also offers continuing education programs to enhance career credentials.
Berkeley College has campuses in Midtown Manhattan and White Plains, NY, as well as in Newark, Paramus, Woodbridge and Woodland Park, NJ, with more than 4,900 students enrolled. In addition, Berkeley College Online® serves a global population. U.S. News & World Report has named Berkeley College among the Best Colleges for Online Bachelor’s Programs and among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Veterans, for eight consecutive years. The website address is http://www.BerkeleyCollege.edu
The mission of Berkeley College is to empower students to achieve lifelong success in dynamic careers.
Photo Caption: Professor Byron K. Hargrove, PhD, Professor of Social Sciences, Berkeley College Division of General Education, and Director, Berkeley College Honors Program, speaks about how responsiveness and compassion with students paid off during the pandemic.