Tag Archives: COVID-19

It is not possible to fail

PROMPT: Based on what you’ve learned about Resilient Course Design, Low Bandwidth Teaching and Trauma-Informed Teaching & Learning in this section and your own experiences with remote teaching in Spring 2020:

1. What is your Plan A for remote teaching in future semesters?

2. Reflect on your Plan A to form a proactive Plan B:

Plan A

I plan to teach asynchronously in the Fall. I’ll need to

1. record 2-3 lectures per unit (there will be 4 major readings constituting the core of 4 units)
2. assign a few complementary documentary/ feature films that can be streamed via the library
3. require weekly discussion assignments
4. administer an open book, time sensitive midterm
5. develop a small range of choices for an academic essay
6.  host IM sessions or zoom office hours once a week
7. craft (optional) blog posts regarding the readings

Plan B
Using a labor-based grading system will allow me to focus on students’ online presence. As my plans are asynchronous and relatively low-bandwidth already, I don’t anticipate many problems with access. In the event that a student cannot stream audio/video we’ll arrange for additional readings to fill the gap.

My greatest challenge teaching will likely be getting students to actually do the reading, a modest request that is usually met with a combination of well-intentioned fribbling and passive resistance. More than ever, most of our students’ waking hours will be consumed plying the dazzling, meaningless shallows of the internet. I can suggest habits that improve their chances of learning, but odds are most of my students will reap very few benefits from an online education. In this register I think it makes sense to refuse to humanize my courses and underscore that they will be working largely in isolation, overstimulated monads drifting in an endless void of appearances. This stance is perhaps one of the only valuable lessons I can impart: that the structure we inhabit determines almost everything.

The good news is that because my courses will be based on a labor system of grading students who complete the assignments on time will receive a B. Those who complete all assignments with distinction will receive an A. Those who do not complete all assignments or turn in assignments late will receive a C. It will not be possible to fail my courses.


It looks as though my courses are going online in the Fall, a prospect I contemplate with ambivalence because for the last several years I’ve been trying to emphasize education as an embodied and situated process, one that depends on concrete factors such as hard copies and particular environments.

A physical copy of a book has a different kind of presence in the world than its digital counterpart. You can mark it up, dog ear the pages, write notes on the blanks, reflect on the publisher’s use of cover art, spill coffee on it, or– according to legend– use the paper to roll cigarettes like Mikhail Bakhtin during the Russian Revolution.

One of the seductions of narrative is its immersiveness. I forget almost everything in the near-pure moment of reading in what is ultimately a form of prompted imagining. But that act is a subtly variegated experience weaving ideation with the rhythm of my body inhabiting time and space. We are still creatures when we read– throbbing softly with the motion of our blood, respiring– so the solitude of study never completely separates us from others of our kind (the person in the next room, the bird on the fire escape, even the simulated body of the character in the story).

The virtual world allows this way of being though perhaps it does so with less intensity and more sporadically. The shiny, facile, dopamine-enhancing landscape of the internet plucks at our attention so persistently that we struggle to find a proper depth. It also fails to address our consciousness fully, in every register. The realm of the digital is impervious to the senses of smell and touch. Scentless, lacking texture, it places us at a sensuous distance from contemplation’s intellectual object. I can open a book and press it to my face to inhale its odor and feel the grain of the paper. I can hear my thumb scrape on the page.

Anyway. The pandemic is forcing a transition many of us are reluctant to embrace. Because every disaster is an opportunity– especially for opportunists– education is in for a sea-change.


SPR 20

Hi Everybody,

I hope you’re doing well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our situation and I’ve decided to give everyone an A for this course.

Starting today, I am no longer requiring you to do any assignments. You do not have to take KW2 or take the final exam or write the essay.

If, however, you would like to complete some or all of the remaining work for this course then please email me. I would be delighted to evaluate anything you submit.

Again: no one has to do any more work and everyone gets an A.

Take care of the people around you.

I hope to see you all again in the Fall.

Best Wishes,