COVID-19 has been hard on all of us. I teach Principles in Health Science to undergraduate students at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. I’ve been teaching this class for several years. When COVID-19 first arrived and instructors paused in-person classes, I had to effectively and quickly move to on-line instruction. Way back in March 2020, I was struggling to deal with the rapid changes COVID-19 was causing in my personal and academic life. Not to mention, I was raising an infant and about to become pregnant again in 2 months. Conversations with other adjunct faculty and doctoral students revealed that we were all struggling with our new reality. On March 18, 2020, I posted the following message to students enrolled in the course I was teaching:
I'm here to support you. Take care of yourself and your family. Our class is not the first priority right now. Everything about this class will remain very flexible for the rest of the semester. Please disregard ALL due date assignments in Blackboard. I'm working on drafting a new syllabus with SIGNIFICANTLY fewer assignments. I will post an updated syllabus on Sunday. As always, I'm available.
One of those changes was the addition of a journal assignment. There is something cathartic about the power of journaling. I have kept a journal since I was teenager. Sometimes journaling can ground your thoughts or serve as a mental wellness outlet. When I was an undergraduate during the 9/11 attack, I was enrolled in a creative writing class, and the instructor encouraged all students to keep a journal for the remainder of the class, and to just write how we were feeling. It was a great experience, and I still have that journal assignment buried in my old school papers.
In place of a final exam, for the last 3 semesters, students enrolled in my class have responded to journal prompts about COVID-19. A few things about this assignment: it’s 25% of the final grade, and students automatically receive all points if they respond to the prompts; all responses are posted in a discussion board on Blackboard, so all responses are public to our class only; students post a response before being able to read what another student posted; students also respond to the post of at least two other students; there is no wrong or right answer to the prompts, I remind students to just share their thoughts but to be respectful if they disagree with another student’s “thoughts” on a prompt. Oh! There is no length requirement for any of the posts. I have read hundreds of responses from the students, and I have learned so much from their thoughtful responses.
Here are the COVID-19 prompts I gave students between March 23, 2020 and May 10, 2021.
SPRING 2020 SEMESTER (Feb – May 2020)
March 23, 2020.
How is the coronavirus outbreak affecting your life?
April 6, 2020.
NYC is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in America, there is a shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers, and we haven't "flattened the curve" yet? What lessons can we learn from these problems?
April 20, 2020.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, was passed last month. Many individuals will receive up to $1200, some small businesses and non-profits are eligible for aid and larger companies like airlines will also receive federal relief funding. Is the CARES Act enough? What would you change about it?
April 26, 2020.
Several states are beginning to lift COVID-19 restrictions despite concerns. President Trump said, “America wants to reopen!” Among some, there is a contentious debate between public health and the economy. Where do you land on this debate? Why?
May 3, 2020.
How will COVID-19 impact the 2020 U.S. presidential election?
FALL 2020 SEMESTER (Sept – Dec 2020)
September 1, 2020.
How has COVID-19 affected your life so far?
September 8, 2020.
NYC public schools are scheduled to open on September 21. Some schools in other parts of the nation, including colleges and universities, have already opened. Is this a good idea, overall? What are the pros and cons of opening schools? Are there differences for K-12 versus colleges and universities?
September 14, 2020.
A COVID-19 vaccine may be available as early as next month. Will you take it? Why or why not? Also, should employers or schools require individuals to take the vaccine to return to work or school?
September 30, 2020.
As of today, September 30th, NYC will allow indoor dining at restaurants with some precautions in place. How do you feel about this change? Will you be supporting the restaurant business and dining in as the weather cools or opting out?
October 22, 2020.
Tonight is the final presidential debate, and COVID-19 infections are up in 75% of the country. What is the federal government not doing to control the spread? Is the Trump Administration doing anything right? How would the Biden Administration perform under the same circumstance?
November 3, 2020.
There is a lot going on right now. Today is Election Day! We are still dealing with COVID-19! Many of us are also steeped in our academic work and personal lives. What are you doing for self-care? If you're not doing much right now, what would you like to be doing for self-care during this time?
November 9, 2020.
The U.S. has topped 10 million COVID-19 cases and Pfizer reports a COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective. If you were a public health government official, what would you tell people to convince them to take the COVID-19 vaccine? NOTE: this prompt IS NOT asking you why you would or wouldn't take the vaccine. That was a prior prompt.
December 2, 2020.
As you may know by now, asynchronous classes are very different from synchronous online classes. Identify 3 tips for success that you would share with Brooklyn College students who are taking asynchronous classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SPRING 2021 SEMESTER (Feb – May 2021)
February 4, 2021.
How has COVID-19 affected your life?
February 16, 2021.
Any New Yorker with a chronic health condition, including obesity and hypertension, is now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, despite a supply shortage. Do you agree or disagree with this eligibility expansion? What would you do differently or keep the same?
February 23, 2021.
Cases and deaths continue to decline, however the U.S. surpassed 500,000 deaths due to COVID-19. For government officials at the national and state level, what are some of the lessons learned?
March 3, 2021.
Texas was the first state to end the COVID-19 mask mandate and open all businesses and facilities to 100% capacity. If you had the opportunity to speak directly with the governor of Texas, what would you tell him and/or ask him about his decision?
March 11, 2021.
President Biden will sign the 1.9 trillion dollar stimulus bill today. Is it enough or is it too big? What changes, if any, would you make to this latest COVID-19 stimulus package?
March 23, 2021.
Mayor Bill de Blasio will end remote work for 80,000 NYC municipal employees effective May 3. Should private business employers end remote work, too? Should there be stipulations with employees returning to the office? What does this mean for COVID-19?
April 13, 2021.
Should colleges and universities REQUIRE students and faculty to receive a COVID-19 vaccine BEFORE returning to campus?
April 22, 2021.
The CDC is evaluating its current mask mandate. With social distancing, mask may not be required when outside. What are your thoughts on this potential change? Will you still wear a mask?
May 10, 2021.
The U.S. has not reached herd immunity, some individuals and communities are hesitant to take a COVID-19 vaccine despite offered incentives, and new variants continue to arise. Is COVID-19 here to stay? How should the U.S. adjust?