In March 2020, we were all scrambling to move our courses online. University writing courses had to shift, mostly with only a couple weeks' notice or less, as everyone involved also found themselves navigating a new and uncertain world disrupted by a pandemic. Some of us were teaching, but others--faculty and GTAs alike--found ourselves working in writing program administration, and asking questions like, "What support do our instructors and students need from their program right now? What can we provide them with to make this transition smoother, especially for those unfamiliar with teaching online?"
In March 2020, we were all scrambling to redesign our courses, keep our students in mind, take care of ourselves and others, and still be good teachers--and we did the best we could. We have reflections from instructors to prove they were doing their best in their classrooms, and a few program profiles that describe measures taken to take care of faculty and students while still promoting learning. We also have the opportunity, now, to take a broader view:
This is the core question for my dissertation work, titled "Reflections on Writing Programs, Pandemic Support, and Resilience." This exploratory and reflective study will examine decisions made by WPAs during the sudden switch to remote learning experienced by many in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, I hope to illuminate some of the underlying assumptions made in decisions to support writing instructors, and ask how those interact with ideas of empathy, online writing instruction best practices, and larger ideas of WPA's roles. These reflections can also be related to issues of crisis communication, self-care, and academic labor issues.
I initially thought of these questions as a graduate student who was doing WPA work herself at the time of the emergency switch to remote teaching and reflected on the choices I made and conversations I had in that moment. To conduct this study, I went to the experts themselves, asking for brief reflections from WPAs and those doing WPA-like work in March 2020. In this article, I begin to try to return the favor by discussing the results of a short survey (Phase 1 of my larger study) meant to prompt those doing WPA work to reflect on decisions they made in that moment of crisis. We are not yet out of pandemic pedagogy, but we are more keenly aware of how quickly our programs may have to adapt to a new situation. With this study, I hope to provide a "big picture view" of the decisions and challenges writing programs faced, building upon the meaningful reflections on pedagogy in the COVID age and the program profiles and reflections that are continuing to come out.