The dynamic of classroom conversation, the value of presence, informal chit-chat with co-workers and the "necessity" of the office commute and who could work safely — divisions and values were brought into sharp relief.

A Collective Intelligence

More than anything else, this experience has taught us the value of presence. For me, the pandemic really reaffirmed a lot of what I already knew — I knew how much I loved my work and how much I cherished and valued my time in this community, engaging with people. And so, the very prospect of being able to come back to the classroom in person is incredibly joyful. I’m relieved and delighted that we’re going to get back to something much more closely resembling normal. That’s the hope for everybody.

When we’re in the classroom, I think there’s a quality to the dynamic of learning and conversation that can happen — people learn to be in one another’s presence. They learn to listen to one another. And it’s beyond respectful. Something like a collective or composite intelligence emerges. We end up, as a group, being far stronger. And what comes out is far more valuable than anything any one of us could have come up with on our own, myself included. And that really is almost impossible to emulate when teaching remotely. — Marcia Brennan, Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Humanities, professor of religion and art history

The Fundamental Importance of Being Fully Present

The pandemic has been a ruthless, even brutal, learning experience. It shocked our understanding of almost every aspect of our lives: social networks, institutions, relationships, values. Very quickly, we were able to see what mattered the most for us as professors and researchers — but more importantly, as people. A classroom without bodies, faces without smiles or frowns, salutations without hugs or kisses — these revealed the fundamental importance of “being fully present.” We need to connect with others beyond the sharing of information. We need each other. We need each other “here,” fully embodied. These ideas not only impacted my own views of teaching, the production and dissemination of knowledge, but also of family and friendship. Within this global crisis, I also acknowledged the urgency of humanities. I mean that I feel the urgency of engaging critically with life, with the place of people and communities in the making of — or destruction of — our world. — Angela and Luis
Duno-Gottberg, Baker College magisters

Online teaching was surprisingly humanizing. We all caught glimpses of each other’s lives, as we taught from kitchen tables with small children and pets regularly in attendance, invited or not.”

— Lisa Balabanlilar, professor of history, chair of Transnational Asian Studie

Missing Chit-Chat

The loss of in-person teaching  hanged the nature of my interactions with students, research teams and school district partners. One of the biggest changes was the loss of most of the informal hallway conversations about weekends, children, pets and other information — office conversations that turned out to be much more important than I thought. We tried to recoup these informal exchanges by creating a “water cooler” Zoom channel. Zoom chats and meetings should continue, but they shouldn’t replace in-person meetings, classes, social events and those surprisingly important water cooler conversations. — Ruth López Turley, professor of sociology, director of the Houston Education Research Consortium

Rethinking the Idea of Cities

The pandemic and the rise of remote work called into question the entire idea of cities. Remote work has made everybody rethink the need for commuting and going to the office. Home delivery has accelerated the decline of bricks-and-mortar retail stores. The divisions in our society have been highlighted, as some people can safely work at home while others have had to put themselves at risk to go to work. All this has fundamentally changed the assumptions underlying our work — that city life constitutes a daily pattern of commuting, work and shopping — and exacerbated the inequity in cities that we already saw. — William Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research

Illustrations by Dan Page

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