By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
Colleges and universities around the world are going through a pivotal period from the previous normal behavior of student and faculty relationships to a new normal that is still unfolding. One of the major pivots is from face-to-face classroom instruction to partial or total online instruction and interacting between students and faculty using technology such as Zoom.
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Dorms are empty, dining halls are closed, and libraries and gyms are locked. The college experiences for millions has turned into an experience of isolation.
Students are adapting to classroom space in their home — in the bedroom, kitchen or garage — while dealing with pets, siblings, and parents around all the time. For many students, that pivot from a life on campus to the life they left back home can be traumatic, and that trauma affects their new online schoolwork load.
October Is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month
There is one other aspect to COVID-19’s current impact on students, and that is October is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month. Students working from home are socially isolated from their colleagues at school or at work.
Other safety precautions have created a different pace and direction of living. Signs of depression have tripled in the U.S. Students suffering from depression might help themselves by writing about their feelings and perhaps search for some positive outcome, because this pandemic will eventually end.
This Pandemic Is an Opportunity for Starting Personal History Writing
As college students are supposed to learn to write well, this pandemic is an opportunity for starting personal history writing. Instructors could discuss how keeping a personal diary on how COVID-19 affects their daily lives would be akin to eyewitness Samuel Pepys’ journal of the Great Plague of 1666 in London. As Pepys and post-crisis events show, those who write history while it is unfolding offer a unique perspective. Actually, as student write their research papers and add even a small section devoted to this pandemic, they are recording a small piece of its unfolding history.
We have all been part of or seen the effects of going from in-person classrooms to online, makeshift home classrooms, as well as distancing ourselves from people or groups and wearing sanitary face masks.
As a result, during 2020 and 2021 the subject matter of those required weekly college themes and research papers might change from routine exercises to first-person accounts of the pandemic. Say the assignment is to review a case study published before 2020, then a compare/contrast paper could show the similarities and differences between the two events.
Most likely some of these college papers would cross the line from quantitative, that is, full of data like 220,000 deaths due to COVID-19, to qualitative, such as the views of various people on the benefits or uselessness of face masks.
Topics Could Include the Coronavirus Pandemic’s Impact on Job Loss and Homelessness
Students could write about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on society such as the loss of jobs or careers or the rise of homelessness. They could write about the loss of life and what death means to the surviving members of their family. It could also be about the great fulfillment some people get working in a crisis, such as ER physicians, nurses and law enforcement.
Topics could come from stories in newspapers, magazines and TV news shows. But perhaps it’s also time to write about the pandemic’s effects on supply chains, logistics warehouse problems or packaging issues.
Today’s students need not dwell on this crisis. Even during a crisis, roses bloom, wildflowers dot the landscape and trees turn fall colors.
The Pandemic Does Not Replace Teaching Good Writing Practices
This pandemic does not replace teaching good writing practices. All students must be reminded of the need to focus on and understand the topic at hand, and not dwell on individual emotional biases. Students must learn how to read expository works that have lessons for thinking about complex problems and creating plausible solutions.
They must remember what the purpose of the class is not just the pandemic swirling around outside their living rooms. They must learn to find data from various sources and analyze it to fit the dimensions of the paper. In general, they need to remain on track with all the various processes in each college class that provide a foundation for good research and good writing.
It is just possible that all students will want to write about the impact of this pandemic on their life, their family, friends, or on some overall effect. So, if students want to write their unique story of this pandemic, let them. But it should not become a continual topic. Faculty members should set aside an actual week for writing that COVID-19 paper because each course is different with different levels of students and different objectives.
Professors have an added burden of helping their students know that their course will survive this pandemic. While the pandemic is scary, writing about it is not; In fact, it could be cathartic. It’s just that writing in general now has a new focus on accuracy, trust and truth. Students must continue to write and learn about good writing, even if they are sitting at their kitchen table.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.
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