A Constellation of Crises: Teaching with Technology During COVID

May 12, 2022

Published in Conversations | Issue 5

Laura Gonzales, University of Florida

Alexandria L. Lockett, Spelman College

Dennis Foung, University of British Columbia

Morgan C. Banville, East Carolina University

Moderated by Sonia Arellano and Lauren Brentnell



Sonia Arellano: As the moderators of this conversation, Lauren and I decided to do a collaborative dialogue ourselves for the introduction. This topic of teaching with technology during COVID is pervasive in many conversations we have at work. So, we hope that this is a conversation readers can relate to and see themselves in as Lauren and I did while moderating.

Lauren Brentnell: Obviously, COVID has had an impact on many aspects of our lives, including health, emotional capacities, and labor shifts. As we think about our teaching lives during COVID, we think about shifts to online education (with or without much support or structure) and then, more recently, pushes back to fully in-person work. Many of us already had done work integrating technology or online instruction into our courses, but the shifts in institutional and student expectations, as well as personal losses that affected our lives, made us continue to reflect upon these practices.

Sonia Arellano: Yes, and these shifts (to online and back to the classroom) because of COVID have also left me thinking about marginalized people who already always struggled with these expectations long before COVID—institutions like the university or our government do not provide support or structures to accommodate such marginalized people. In the U.S., millions of historically disenfranchised people continue to struggle for basic access to housing, food, and healthcare. I feel fortunate to say I have not struggled with teaching online or with technology because my university paid me to take a course to prepare me to teach online before COVID. So, the shift wasn’t difficult for me. However, I felt for colleagues who were forced to shift online with no paid training and really no training at all.

Lauren Brentnell: Similar to many of our participants, I had a lot of experience teaching with technology before my institution’s shift to online instruction. However, I noticed that because of my experience, I was often asked to do additional and generally unpaid work to support other instructors who were less familiar with technology, including building out course shells in our learning management system, holding workshops to introduce faculty to online support, and creating guides for online systems. Therefore, a familiarity with technology helped me in my course designs (which were already highly online), but it also added other work to support others.

Sonia Arellano: We asked the following scholars to be a part of this conversation:

  • Laura Gonzales, Assistant Professor at the University of Florida
  • Alexandria L. Lockett, Assistant Professor at Spelman College
  • Dennis Foung, Lecturer at the University of British Columbia
  • Morgan C. Banville, Doctoral Student at East Carolina University

Throughout the discussion, participants shared their stories of vastly different experiences. It seems this disparity between participants’ experiences in teaching with technology likely reflects the diverse experiences of people across our field. Some salient themes we see throughout this conversation are as follows:

Experience with technology. Our participants here noted different levels of experience both with teaching and with teaching using digital or other technologies. Some had been doing this well before the pandemic, from incorporating technologies into course instruction and design to teaching online or hybrid courses. Others had less experience and often noted that the sudden shifts to requiring these formats meant additional labor to understand how to use and incorporate them into an already existing pedagogy and curriculum. For those with more experience, this transition was simpler—though not necessarily without labor. For example, Alexandria notes that she still had to create surveys in order to gauge the access level that students had to online courses and design additional asynchronous activities for those who might not be able to consistently join in a synchronous format.

Support from institutions and students. As stated above, many participants noted that there was a lack of support from institutions in transitioning and understanding approaches to technology. Much of this labor, therefore, fell onto teachers, and included a combination of the lack of support and a need to catch students up on new modes of teaching. Additionally, we noted that the switch from primarily face-to-face learning to online/hybrid learning in 2020 and now back to face-to-face learning in many institutions has caused whiplash for both students and instructors. In addition to material or access support, Morgan also questions how we consider ethics when we use technologies, including whether tools that institutions provide protect student data and work, issues in surveillance and privacy, and other concerns.

“Real experience” of learning. Related to this, we noted that participants talked about issues with administration’s definitions of the “real experience” of learning. As Laura notes, while administration previously advocated for online courses for access and enrollment reasons, the movement back to “normal” meant that now they often push for seeing face-to-face courses as the only way to provide a real college experience. Defining and redefining what constitutes preferred learning and college experiences has been part of the conversation on ways that technology is used in our classrooms.

Accessibility. While all of us found a lot of uses for technology, we also noted that technology is not without its own issues. In particular, lack of access, stable internet, or knowledge of technology from faculty and students created barriers to learning for some. In addition to these access issues, Dennis also raises the issue of making sure that while some technology may be available broadly, it might not be easily connected to course websites or learning management systems. For example, while many instructors utilized video conferencing through Zoom, he noted that his university Blackboard did not provide easy integration of Zoom, so he had to rely on other video conferencing tools.

We hope while reading through this conversation you identify with some of the hardships expressed here, as we have all experienced different shifts in our teaching over the past two years. However, we also hope that you identify with some of the amazing pedagogical and self-care practices discussed throughout.

Cultural rhetorics values storytelling as one of its key methodologies. Considering that, please share with us a bit about your story—experience and context—of teaching with technology during COVID.
A picture of dual computer monitors in a home office open to the constellations website.

Dennis Foung’s “messy” home office.

Morgan Banville: I am a first-generation college student, which I recognize has varying definitions. For me, it means that I am the first in my family to attend any type of education after high school. I provide this context because I found that once shifting online in March of 2020, the experience of being a first-generation college student, and at the time, a first-year PhD student (I am now as of Spring 2022 in my third-year), became even more isolating. As the conversation title suggests, we taught with technology during the peak of COVID; however, being over 700 miles away from family/friends and further having to navigate teaching online was challenging, to say the least. In some ways, it feels disorienting to reflect back to two years ago this month on a pandemic that is still occurring; the body remembers, and it is difficult to heal from trauma while still going through it.

Alexandria Lockett: Yes, I completely agree. We must consider the epistemological requirements necessary for writing about a temporal condition of an unfolding and continuous present. I think often about how the pandemic has, or should, change our language. Despite the fact that the pandemic continues, many people are referring to it as a past event. This attitude deeply concerns me because it guarantees that today’s struggle will be impossible for millions to survive and assures more unnecessary, unprecedented suffering and death in the future.

Morgan Banville: I spent the rest of the Spring 2020 semester in online coursework, and I felt my instructors were more than generous with their time and understanding. The Fall of 2020 was the most difficult to navigate, as our university (East Carolina University) elected to shift to online teaching through 8-week blocks instead of the typical 15-week. This was my first time teaching virtually, and graduate students were asked to continue teaching the 15-week content in the 8-week timeframe, which was entirely unmanageable. Graduate students taught two courses asynchronously during the semester (this is standard, with/without COVID), while taking courses of our own. Regardless of what the university’s expectations were, my expectation as an instructor was to give as much grace and care as possible. I knew I was struggling, and from the check-ins I had with students online, I knew they were too. Both in-person and virtually, I had/have writing accountability groups. These groups are split into five groups of five students, where students are in contact with each other throughout the semester (anything from missing a class, to peer reviewing one another, and more). Sure, navigating a Learning Management System (LMS) in Fall 2020 (Canvas) was a bit of a learning curve since I hadn’t previously taught or taught virtually before, but I also saw how the technology allowed a space for students who were in isolation to connect (and not just about schoolwork). These systems, though they can be used for nefarious means (such as surveillance) also, mostly, allowed students to create through multiple modes of learning and knowledge-making.

Laura Gonzales: Wow! 15 to 8 weeks is a huge shift!

Dennis Foung: Being a first-year PhD student during the pandemic is tough. The isolation caused by the pandemic makes it hard to meet new people, and this is needed for doing well in our PhD studies.

Morgan Banville: Absolutely! There were some instructors in the department that I didn’t even meet face-to-face until we came back this Fall (2021).

Dennis Foung: I think grace and care is an important lesson for me as a teacher. This is a very important mindset when designing and delivering classes.

Alexandria Lockett: Teaching with technology during this current, ongoing pandemic felt natural to me because I started my composition training with technology in 2006. This identity, of being a “tech” aware or proficient writing instructor, at the age of 22, facilitated many risks. As I was being trained to teach in classrooms equipped with cameras, computers, etc., the majority consensus among most teachers, even the ones that were my age, was to have an aversion to technology. Back then, just as now, face-to-face-lecture-based instruction seemed to be championed as the panacea for “bad student” performance. However, I could not have attended college without home and public library access to the Internet.

When I came to graduate school as a first-gen, Black woman from NE Texas, I was a McNair scholar and a Bill Gates Millennium Scholar. My destiny was supposed to be STEM, but my love of language and philosophy made me feel as if I fit more seamlessly into the humanities. I never stopped loving studying technology though. My ability to go to school relied on that Internet access. I begged my mama to buy me a $1500 Compaq in 2000, and without that access at home, college might have been impossible for me.

In those days, we were transitioning all apps and knowledge to the online space, which made the process of applying to scholarships more transparent. Some organizations would even accept an electronic application, but this was rare. My attitude towards the Internet was that of great appreciation and possibility. But I was a teenager, and the advent of Internet Chat Relay (IRC) was upon us. The popularity of chat rooms, AIM, ICQ, MSN, and Yahoo messengers was the gateway to the contemporary social media experience, as the web has always been social. I was the strange Black person at my high school that was the only Black face in my telecommunications and AP classes. My high school was 50/50 black and white students, which shows that race and racism clearly played a role in our achievement gaps, as well as “student success.” The lack of interest in tech in my community led me to occupy a marginal position among small groups of weird white boys in Linux Club. However, they recommended cool literature like Neuromancer, movies like Blade Runner, and programming tips that convinced me that I’d one day be a “techie.” These contexts helped prepare me for the kind of isolation that I would experience for the rest of my education and current stage in my career.

Dennis Foung: I find my experience with AIM, ICQ, MSN, and Yahoo messengers help me communicate with my students better during the pandemic.

Morgan Banville: Alexandria, I was able to teach asynchronously, however, access to technology to complete assignments became an important topic of conversation in the classroom. East Carolina University is located in Eastern NC, and many of my students live/lived in the surrounding areas and do/did not have access to technology (very rural). For example, 30 minutes down the street from ECU there are internet cafes because so much of the local population doesn’t have internet access. Students have the ability to loan (for no cost) different technologies from the library, but this is usually for a day at a time. Technologies range from loaning laptops to other equipment such as cameras, microphones, and so forth (there’s a long list!). During the major quarantine period, this became a huge issue because students did not have the means to drive back and forth to borrow technology every single day.

Morgan takes a photo of the book "iSpy," which features an overlay of an eye and a computer chip in the cover, while sitting in the sand.

Morgan Banville’s composition reading during the pandemic.

Alexandria Lockett: Morgan, I hope that the pandemic has increased internet access for your geographic location. The issue of accessibility pervades our current situation—whether students can access working devices, an internet connection, or will need access to learning support resources such as flexible late policies or pass/fail options. Students with pre-existing conditions are struggling with shifts in masking policies or institutions’ refusal to continue providing remote or hybrid learning opportunities. The problem of access inspired me to create this survey and be prepared to offer plenty of asynchronous writing activities for students dealing with sickness, mental health, grief, etc.

I kept these details in mind, combining them with my ambition to resist Tech/Code averse writing pedagogy. I have been teaching Wikipedia editing since 2006, as well as with chat rooms and other social web communities. Therefore, when we switched to “remote instruction,” I was ready to host my classroom as a completely online space. I mod for some content creators on various social media (e.g., YouTube and Discord) in my spare time, so I know how to engage online users. I took full advantage of reactions, polls, the chat, optional camera usage, etc. I knew that increased engagement requires immersion and interactivity—not lecture with an endless set of rules and disciplinary measures.

I teach more naturally online, addressing the chat and breaking down activities. I enjoy that online learning supports in-class guided instruction and lots of modeling through screen share. I love live transcription, and my students love it too. What has changed about my pedagogy, mostly, is that my instruction is more technical and social. I have appreciated how much easier Wikipedia editing is, as a goal, when teaching online. I also love that the focus on access and good design has been elevated. Assessment during the crisis has also come under question. I have eliminated my late work and attendance policy with exception of a few sync workshops/peer review sessions. Nevertheless, some students still seek to communicate why they are “behind,” but I am no longer inundated with emails about the fifty eleven reasons they need more time. I scaled back my assignments entirely, focusing on composition much more than ever. The emphasis on real-world public writing has amplified, and I find myself moving further and further away from essays.

I am considerate of the fact that my students are now “pandemic kids,” who have had an entirely different educational experience than those I’ve taught in the past. Communicating with intention, purpose, and clarity for the purposes of creating and exchanging knowledge is enacted in my assignments. I tried out more visual practices like catalog copywriting for a real cake business, vision boards in a business and professional writing class, and the creation of organizer kits and ePortfolios in writing seminar courses. I collected data on student well-being and access needs. Overall, writing instruction has become much more meaningful to me at this moment, as my desire for students to have more info/data/code literacy has always driven my pedagogy. Teaching at a college with predominantly Black Women students brings out my desire to critique and exploit the liberatory aspects of online learning and community. This pandemic forced my traditional institution to adapt technological changes to its curriculum and practices that simply haven’t happened before. It reveals an inter-generational crisis, as social norms in the virtual space adapt to this time. We are redefining everything. The road to success, love relationships, knowledge, education, and the workforce can never go back to “normal.”

Dennis Foung: Agree. Engagement comes from good activities, like the ones you said. For around 15 years, I have taught English in academia and have used technology extensively for teaching and learning purposes throughout my career. During the pandemic, I have been teaching research writing to undergraduates. I stayed online completely for three to four semesters and then taught one hybrid semester (i.e., a combination of online and in-person classes). In the current semester, I taught six weeks online and am now doing hybrid teaching. This has all been very different from what I did previously, but I do think that the available technology has helped a lot.

I did not have any major issues with teaching in this way because I also served as an educational technologist in my university’s teaching support unit before the pandemic. I am, therefore, aware of the strengths and limitations of the technology in our ecosystem. I aim only to use technology that I am competent with that I can incorporate into my teaching effectively.

Morgan Banville: I’m curious to hear more about these strengths and limitations—could you speak to this?

Dennis Foung: For example, some applications cannot be integrated into the learning management system and there are more access issues (e.g., students got problems with installation / need a new set of passwords). I will try to avoid these applications. A more specific example: Zoom was not incorporated as part one of the menu items on Blackboard (in one of the institutions I worked for), so I choose to use Blackboard Collaborate instead of Zoom. I use Zoom for teaching at another institution.

Alexandria Lockett: Over the years, I learned that less is more and to seek open-source tech within and outside of my institutional ecosystem. For years, I used Ubuntu instead of Microsoft or Mac OS’s (operating systems), as well as OpenOffice as an alternative to Microsoft Word until my institution purchased 365 subscriptions for everyone. I also make a point to teach with free digital projects and open access or fair use texts to leverage high quality public educational materials. This enables me to avoid delays and failures with our admin structures like bookstore ordering, Mass LMS shutdowns, etc.

Laura Gonzales: Like many people, my university shifted to online instruction mid-semester in 2020. As this was happening, we were also witnessing and experiencing tragedy and death all around us, both because of COVID and due to the anti-Blackness that permeates our society. So, for me, it wasn’t so much about teaching with technology in the pandemic but about trying to find ways to connect with students while also dealing with a lot of grief. Furthermore, the pandemic started only one semester after I moved to a new institution, so I hadn’t really gotten a chance to get to know my campus and many of my colleagues and students. As the pandemic progressed, my institution tried (and continues trying) to pretend everything is normal, pushing students and instructors back into classrooms before vaccines were available. I guess this is just a part of the general context in which we are trying to (somehow) continue teaching, learning, publishing, and surviving.

Dennis Foung: Very true about connecting with students. This is not only about interacting with students but dealing with this pandemic emotionally.

When you said you were moving to a new institution, I really felt the same. I joined a new team during the pandemic. I did not get a chance to meet my colleagues (but I did meet my students in the classroom).

Morgan Banville: I’m adding claps here about Laura’s comment, “but about trying to find ways to connect with students while also dealing with a lot of grief.” I found that it was becoming more and more difficult to find the space to connect with students who were/are grieving without first taking care of my own processing. It’s something that I continue to keep at the forefront and discuss often with students.

Alexandria Lockett: Yes, I can identify with this sentiment as well. Last year, I lost my mother, father, brother, grandfather, and two great aunts. Day before yesterday, I lost my 15-year-old godson to a car accident. Dealing with all of this loss has tremendously affected my pedagogy and continues to deeply affect my life. What does compassion for us, faculty, look like? So far, I’ve had to keep working and doing “all the things” for some possibility of promotion. Mostly, I need a really long break to heal. But, I have to earn an income, as I inherited nothing. I hope this pandemic inspires workers to demand better bereavement and caregiver arrangements with employers. Too many people face this impossible challenge. U.S. culture is terrible about how it depicts and handles life, living, death, dying, and grief.

The debate over technology as a detriment or productive tool goes back farther than our field. How has technology (considered in all its various forms, not just digital) helped AND hindered your teaching and overall life during the pandemic?
A picture of an empty college classroom featuring tables with rolling chairs and tv screens at the heads of each of them.

Morgan Banville’s classroom space.

Laura Gonzales: It’s hilarious to me that before the pandemic, my university was pushing for increased online instruction. When I started my current position, my colleagues commented that upper administration had been wanting us to teach English courses online, but many of my colleagues resisted this push. Then, when the pandemic hit and we all had to adjust to online instruction, many of my colleagues, being the great teachers they are, adjusted so well. They created new routines, new approaches to student engagement, new ways to facilitate student discussion. Then, of course, the university (following conservative state politics), wanted everyone back in the classroom because our governor pretends COVID isn’t real.

All of a sudden, the same admins who were telling us that we needed to have more online courses were now parroting that “students need to physically be in the classroom in order to have a real college experience.” It’s almost too ironic to be believable, but I think this contradiction illustrates a broader point about technology—technology is consistently leveraged by those in power to perpetuate the oppression of others. Whether it’s online instruction or AI algorithms, technologies are positioned as these neutral objects that facilitate human activity. While this is true, in reality, technologies are also used to wield power over people under the guise of convenience, necessity, or customization.

Institutions will continue to use technology to assert their power or extend their agendas, and COVID instruction really shed light on these practices. For example, since we had to adapt to hybrid instruction during the pandemic, many of our classrooms got upgraded computers, cameras, and microphones so that students who couldn’t be in class could Zoom in. I don’t think that universities will be okay with us not using that fancy equipment after (if) the pandemic ends. Now, we have to teach in multiple modalities at once in order to accommodate student and university preferences. I’m sounding really negative here, but I do think this is true. The advantage though is that many people learned we truly can connect and work from everywhere, and I think that’s gonna shift several industries as more people seek remote working positions.

Dennis Foung: I think creating routine is important when adopting technology. This helps students (and teachers) to adapt to online teaching/learning more easily. Agree with everyone on the problems of “real college experience” here. Then, the question is: what does a “real college experience” constitute? While I myself feel that teaching in multiple modalities can be beneficial to students, this brings huge concerns to teachers as well.

Morgan Banville: Yes—I always consider who is implementing the technology; who are they protecting and harming? What are the ethical implications? So many technologies have been introduced as a means of convenience, as you write, Laura, also providing those with the illusion of choice. Often, there is not an ability to opt out of these systems.

To your note, Laura, about the increase of computers, cameras, and microphones, I am considering this from a surveillance perspective; this is a perfect example of the ways technologies are introduced without further consideration. Often during major events, such as the pandemic or 9/11, there is an agenda that is pushed to “ease” the public; “it’s for safety” or “security.” For example, when 9/11 occurred, the government took the opportunity to push for more implementation of facial recognition devices, which we know are racist. With COVID, implementation of digital technologies into the classroom brought with it questions about monitoring practices, data collection, and invasion of privacy (referring to the cameras on/off debate).

Dennis Foung: I think technology allows my courses to be more accessible. With the help of video conferencing applications (e.g., Zoom), students can choose to come to an in-person class, attend the same class online, or watch the recording afterwards. I can also make myself available online during the hours I will not be on campus (e.g., late afternoons and evenings). Before the pandemic, the use and sharing of PDF handouts allowed students to take notes more easily using their laptops.

I think that technology hinders interactions between everyone (students and teachers). It allows students to hide themselves at home and remain quiet during online discussions. Because of the lack of interactions, some students choose to watch Netflix during class. Some may choose to skip live classes entirely as they believe they can watch all the class recordings later, but never manage to do so.

Morgan Banville: I resonate with your response, Dennis. Having in-person/virtual office hours is something that I also want to continue. During my reading for comprehensive exams in the Summer of 2021 (for exams in Fall 2021), I came across this text by Angela Haas (2012). This article made me rethink the way I thought about and even referred to technologies. We know technologies are not neutral nor objective, and Haas refers to how “technology is informed by cultural and rhetorical theories as together these theories interrogate how inequalities of power are produced, maintained, and transformed through culture and its rhetorics” (2012, p. 288). I include this quote to remind us to move past the usefulness of technologies to considerations of their role in society and who creates them (and for whom).

Digital technologies have hindered my work at times through the infrastructural university expectations; I suspect that many have to grapple with university expectations (such as using certain surveillance technologies like TurnitIn and so on). I mention this example as a hindrance because students have been taught that “plagiarism is bad” (which it is) and Turnitin can be used to help them “catch plagiarism.” And while aspects of that may be true, students are also unaware of the surveillance (of language, as well), copyright, and data mining implications associated with linking course material to the software. I discussed this with my students and gave them an option for whether or not to implement the software (in this example) in the class. My Writing for Business and Industry course overwhelmingly voted to use Turnitin, while my Scientific Writing course largely opted out.

Speaking of my Scientific Writing course, this is where some of the ways technologies other than digital helped teaching/overall life during the pandemic (for me and my students). In November of 2019, a “Disability, Bias, and AI” guide was published by Whittaker et al. The students in the Scientific Writing course read this and we discussed at length what technology is and what “assistive technology” is. In short, the guide notes that though the definition for assistive technology, or technology that assists disabled people, may be useful in some contexts, this term tends to “presume that some technologies offer assistance, while others don’t” and “frames the users of ‘assistive’ technologies as passive” (p. 5).

I’ve thought a lot about how technologies have helped/hindered our teaching/lives. With that said, technology (other than digital) such as weights, baking, yoga, my hiking boots, my car, card games, my agenda book, and so much more helped with my teaching during the pandemic. Without caring for myself in the ways that I needed, I would not have been able to show up and support my students in the ways that they needed as well. Exercising, taking walks, going for a drive, playing games: all helped my teaching. These non-digital technologies grounded me so that I could connect to my students and create a space to be more available while also taking care of myself. Plus, with technologies like an agenda book (and pen), I was able to cross items off my to-do list, which helped me feel productive.

Morgan takes a pictures of the book "Critical Power Tools" that features abstract green gears on the black cover, while sitting on some large waterside rocks.

Morgan Banville’s composition reading + self-care.

Dennis Foung: Very true about surveillance. I do similar research myself (learning analytics with educational data). While I see the benefits brought by data mining, this may only be achieved with ethical practices. Making students aware of the surveillance is one of the ways to move forward, namely by getting them to make an informed decision about the data to be (or not to be used). On your note about data mining implications: Still, I believe that the analytics process can bring some kind of actionable insight(s) for both students and teachers to improve the teaching and learning process. But yes, this has to be done in an ethical manner.

Morgan Banville: I agree with the ethical approach, Dennis! I tend not to use the analytics unless it is to find out the last login date for a student. This is required by the university to note if a student is failing; however, I find it helpful to discuss what I have access to on my end, being transparent with students, even if I elect not to utilize the available monitoring capabilities.

Alexandria Lockett: Technology access while grieving has enabled me to have a work situation that may not have been possible pre-pandemic. Although my workflow has always been hybrid, I’ve long wanted to completely work from home. Police violence, road rage, bad traffic, long commutes, getting a new car, socializing with hostile colleagues and over-anxious students used to trigger my own anxiety so bad that I didn’t want to ever leave my house. I feel extremely privileged to live in a city that delivers mostly anything and an apartment complex that is completely outdoor access (no elevators). The pandemic has allowed me to recognize the limitations of tech when working from home and processing multiple deaths of my immediate family members. For example, I turn off everything before going to bed. I have very strict times for working and writing vs. long silent breaks. My main tech issue has been internet stability. At times, it goes out or Zoom kicks me out when I go on camera.

I appreciate our discussion about surveillance and ethics. My PhD work delved into the symbolic power of information leaks and offered some Black literary perspectives on surveillance. In fact, the hacktivist philosophy that I have towards the internet has manifested in this moment more clearly than any time in my career. I appreciate the opportunity to see how well anonymous teaching works. Much research needs to be done on how learning works when certain identifying information isn’t present. At Spelman, I spend a lot of time discussing how my students want to control their likeness. I connect this issue to discussions about the pressure to join platforms like LinkedIn and the notion of “voluntary” disclosure of one’s information to the EEOC. In addition, how does likeness mediation affect “pretty privilege,” or fat shaming, or colorism and sexism in general? I don’t require camera usage, but I instead incorporate what I have long casually referred to as “strategic seeing” when I want them to shake up their engagement practices. We incorporate profile images, hacker names, avatars, emoticon usage, and other alternate identifying information. In all my courses, we play with profile name displays and read scholarship about name discrimination in grading and hiring (Crusan; Milz).

I have also started experimenting with the option of “encrypted” paper submissions where the student has a way to get my feedback without me seeing who provides the work until they follow-up and disclose. Self-representation and its relationship to education needs to be at the forefront of pedagogical research and any faculty development. Social media is now an adult. We can’t keep talking about certain technologies as if they are “new.” Wikipedia, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube plus newer platforms like TikTok and Tinder transformed public consciousness towards how we look and how we see. Surveillance is ubiquitous, and my students don’t seem to care. However, these technology discussions are made easier through remote instruction. They have to live out spontaneous interruption alongside planned activity. It is truly learning by doing, which can facilitate meta-cognition. I have enjoyed preparing students for tech and comm failure through the creation of correspondence kits (e.g., customizable email templates for absences, rec requests, etc.) that contain their own “personal boilerplate” for when they have to make requests of others.

Considering the changes to your classrooms or institutions, how has your pedagogy changed?
A screenshot of two computer screens sharing (through Dennis Foung's zoom call) websites about indigenous people.

Dennis Foung teaching in an online classroom.

Alexandria Lockett: I addressed this pretty comprehensively in question 1.

Laura Gonzales: I don’t think the technology itself has changed my pedagogy, but the experience of the pandemic and the difficulties of the last couple of years have pushed me to try and be a more compassionate teacher—to ask students about how I can make content more accessible, how I can be more flexible, and how I can provide further opportunities for connection after many people spent so much time isolated and disconnected.

Dennis Foung: Agree with all these approaches. These are important lessons to learn. Perhaps the new normal?

Morgan Banville: I have done a lot more listening. To my students, to others in the field and outside of. And to myself. I always considered myself a reflective practitioner; that is, I take in information and think about it. A lot. I reflect on my assignments, my thoughts, words, conversations: it sounds exhausting, I know. But all in all I think reflecting makes my pedagogy stronger. There is no “one size fits all” approach with students, but I always lean into feminist approaches to pedagogy such as rhetorical listening, respect, and care. Through reflection, collaborative experiences and discussions may arise. Considering the changes, harmful and helpful, those noted and those unsaid, my pedagogy already centered on students, but I also found space for myself in that practice. My pedagogy fully embodies who I am as an instructor, researcher, and person. I believe that educators should promote the learning and growth of all students through ethical, culturally proficient, and collaborative practice. It is important for a classroom to be a space where students feel their voices are being heard and contributing to a dialogue. In doing so, my pedagogy considers how to build a neighborhood for education in the classroom. In creating a community space, I refer to making the classroom a democratic setting where everyone feels a responsibility to contribute, rather than creating a space that is neutral, where students do not feel able to express their thoughts. I rely on the elements of feminist care pedagogy and resonate with hooks’ (1994) notion in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, that we must build “community in order to create a climate of openness and intellectual” (p. 40).

Dennis Foung: I do agree with the reflection approach. I sometimes find different voices overwhelming myself… but I try my best to make sure that all voices are heard. Since students are facing a variety of challenges (such as internet access, time differences, and getting COVID), I always try to make my course accessible and find out if any students may be disadvantaged by certain course arrangements. Also, I try to make the workload more manageable for my students. For example, if some learning outcomes can be assessed in a simpler way, this is the option I will choose. The possibility of having both in-person and online classes also gives me a chance to think about how I can maximize each delivery mode. For example, I ensure there are plenty of opportunities for interaction during an in-person class, such as debates or small group discussions. In an online classroom, I try to give students opportunities to do some research and complete online activities (such as writing on a Google Doc together!).

What shifts have you experienced teaching with technology that initially happened because of COVID but now you think you will continue to stay with you?
A pictures of Morgan's desk with a single desktop monitor, a printer, a few organizational caddies, and a sign with an apple painted on it that says "Love, Learn, Teach: Miss Banville"

Morgan Banville’s Office Space.

Laura Gonzales: Zoom office hours! I love that I can meet with students on days that I’m not on campus. I also started using collaborative digital tools like Google Jamboard, which I will definitely keep using since they also work well in face-to-face courses. In general, there are certain things we all figured out we can do online without having to be in person.

Dennis Foung: Agree with Zoom office hours. This convenience works both ways: for me and for students.

Morgan Banville: I will definitely continue with flexible office hours. I will physically sit in my office on campus, but I have both online and in-person options. It is entirely up to the student how they want to meet with me. Plus, I have increased flexibility with creating appointments if the hours do not coordinate with the student’s schedule. I also have more flexibility with assignments and turning in assignments late, but this is of course within my boundaries and often depends on the assignment and other contextual concerns. The shifts that I am most excited about continuing to implement are “life happens” and mental health days.

For the “life happens,” this approach drops two of the students’ lowest grades in the attendance/participation category. Depending on the class, this category largely consists of discussion boards, reflections, and other assignments that lead to Major Projects. The reflections on the discussions are also something I intend to continue. This shift involves having students respond in the format of their choice but connecting the discussions to prior readings and real-world applications; this technological shift during COVID is something I want to continue because it allows for more critical and deeper engagement. Similarly, I am an advocate for not needing to share excuses with instructors for why you aren’t in class, and rather just giving students extra days to take. Sometimes we (and I mean instructors included) just need a day. We need more than a day, actually, but I try to emphasize mental health in the classroom (whatever that looks like for each individual student). I also began to implement different ways of responding (both virtual and in-person); so for every assignment students have the option to write a response, but they can also upload an audio response. Further, I have an option for tactile or visual responses, which are accompanied by short statements describing the creations. This was adopted from one of my instructors, Will Banks.

Alexandria Lockett: Access and flexibility are at the center of my current teaching practices, more than they ever have been. For example, if you examine my “late work,” “grading,” and “feedback” policies (linked earlier in this conversation), you’ll see that I strongly resist disciplining adult folks. For example, no late work penalties. I recognize that some instructors can’t do this if their class sizes are too big, they are complying with an institutional program or Gen Ed curriculum, or their prepping style doesn’t allow for it. I am currently reflecting on my methods, however, because the reassurance can be more labor than sticking to hard deadlines throughout the term. That’s another article or book though…

Laura Gonzales: In response to Morgan’s comment above: “I am an advocate for not needing to share excuses with instructors for why you aren’t in class.” Yes! I’ve heard of situations where instructors ask for proof that students and/or family members are sick, and even proof of death when students say they are attending funerals, mourning, etc. I’m like, in a pandemic?!? Why?!?!

Dennis Foung: I have adopted the “life happens” approach as well. With “life happens,” I not only cover mental health or physical health, but also anything that happens with them or around them. This may include not having the internet connection they need, taking care of someone in their household, or other unexpected minor circumstances.

Now, thinking back to what I typed earlier, I am starting to feel that I did not change my use of technology much, only how I use it to realize course arrangements. For example, I used video conferencing software (e.g., Skype) before the pandemic. I now think I will make the online office hours one of my regular practices. I used a shared drive to store and share my notes before the pandemic, and I will keep using this going forward. However, I will need to think about making the Google Drive available to students.

Laura Gonzales: I have to head out now, but this was really fun! Thank you for the invite and for sharing this space!

Morgan Banville: Thank you so much for this opportunity to chat. I’ve learned so much from all of you!

Alexandria Lockett: I appreciate this writing invitation and opportunity.

About the Authors

Morgan C. Banville is a PhD Student in Rhetoric, Writing, and Professional Communication at East Carolina University. She researches the intersections of surveillance studies and technical communication, often informed by feminist methodologies. She is the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication (CPTSC) Graduate Student Committee (GSC) Co-Chair and The Peer Review Journal Graduate Co-Editor. You can find her recent work in the Proceedings of the 38th and 39th ACM International Conference on Design of Communication, as well as Programmatic Perspectives, The Dangling Modifier, The Peer Review Journal, IEEE Xplore, and the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication.

Dennis Foung is a research writing teacher at The University of British Columbia. He holds a doctorate in language education and a Cambridge Delta (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). He has been teaching English to a variety of tertiary students in Hong Kong and Canada. Having a keen interest in computer-assisted language learning, he coordinated the design and development of various language-learning platforms. Other than CALL, Dennis is an advocate of learning analytics and has been playing an active role in promoting Learning Analytics (LA) in different contexts.

Dr. Laura Gonzales is an Assistant Professor of Digital Writing and Cultural Rhetorics in the Department of English at the University of Florida. Her research focuses on the intersections of language diversity, community engagement, and technology design. Dr. Gonzales is the author of Sites of Translation: What Multilinguals Can Teach Us About Digital Writing and Rhetoric (University of Michigan Press, 2018), which won the 2020 CCCC Advancement of Knowledge Award and the 2016 Digital Rhetoric Collaborative Book Prize. Her second monograph, Designing Multilingual Experiences in Technical Communication, is forthcoming by Utah State University Press. Dr. Gonzales is the Vice President of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW) and the editor of Reflections: A Journal of Community-Engaged Writing and Rhetoric.

Dr. Alexandria L. Lockett is an Assistant Professor of English at Spelman College where she teaches business, professional, and technical writing courses that center public writing such as Wikipedia editing and copywriting for real clients. In addition, Dr. Lockett publishes about the technocultural politics of knowledge production. She is the lead author of Race, Rhetoric, and Research Methods (WAC Clearinghouse, April 2021) and co-editor of Learning From the Lived Experiences of Graduate Student Writers (Utah State University Press, May 2020, Winner of the 2021 International Writing Center Association Outstanding Book Award). Her research also appears in various academic journals such as Composition Studies, Enculturation, SPUR, and Praxis, as well as the collections: Wikipedia @ 20: An Incomplete Revolution (MIT Press), Humans at Work in the Digital Age (Routledge), Out in the Center (Utah State University Press), and Black Perspectives on Writing Program Administration: From the Margins to the Center (SWR Press).

About the Moderators

Sonia C. Arellano is an assistant professor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida. Her research focuses on textile projects that address social justice issues, particularly at the intersections of migration and death. Her current book project examines the tactile rhetoric of the Migrant Quilt Project, which uses quilts to memorialize migrant lives lost while crossing into the US. Her work can be found in Peitho: The Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition and in Rhetorics Elsewhere and Otherwise: Alternative and Contested Modernities, Decolonial Visions.

Lauren Brentnell is an instructor of English at the University of Northern Colorado. They are a managing editor of constellations: a cultural rhetorics publishing space and the current secretary of the CCCC Queer Caucus. They have a PhD in Rhetoric and Writing from Michigan State University and their research focuses on incorporating trauma-informed, care-based practices into institutional contexts, including writing classrooms, programs, and centers. They are the author of several pieces on vulnerability in writing center work co-authored with Elise Dixon and Rachel Robinson, as well as “Living Oklahoma: A Memoir About Trauma and Rebuilding in Academia” in Pixelating the Self: Digital Feminist Memoirs. Their dissertation, “Responding to Sexual Violence Through Care-Based Practices in Writing Programs,” argues for the incorporation of trauma-informed work into writing program administration.

Production Credits

Copy Editors: Sonia Arellano, Lauren Brentnell, Iliana Cosme-Brooks, and Alexandra Hidalgo

Editorial Assistant: Jeanetta Mohlke-Hill

Social Media Manager: Jeanetta Mohlke-Hill