‘If we’re patient with each other, it’ll be OK’

Bradley magazine spoke with Associate Professor of Communication Elena Gabor for her thoughts on teaching during the COVID pandemic.

How did you prepare to move your classes online? What tools are you using?

I feel prepared because I took the online training course with Tim Wheat last May, when the world was still "normal," and already taught COM 292 online last July. For COM 292 - Organizational Communication, I’ll take an asynchronous approach with Panopto lecture highlights, weekly learning modules on Sakai, discussion forums, uploaded papers, online exams, and virtual office hours via Google Meet. In COM 392 - Case Studies in Organizational Communication, where students have to give presentations in pairs and be judged by a jury of classmates, we’re using Google Meet for synchronous presentations every Tuesday and Thursday at our regular class time. For advising, I will use Google Meet. In my capstone research class, I lecture live via Google Meet every Monday, consult with each student researcher via Google Meet, and have weekly learning modules. 

How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your life in other ways?

Our 20-year-old son, who studies at Boston University, was sent home from his study abroad in Germany. Because he returned from a Level 3 country affected by COVID-19, we have stayed in the house. The day before he arrived, I went shopping and bought long-lasting ingredients like rice, beans, flour, frozen veggies, chocolate and meat we can freeze. I had never filled my shopping cart like I did during my trip to Walmart on the Friday before borders were closed. I decided to keep the receipt as a historical artifact of these surreal times. My memories of growing up in food-deprived, totalitarian Romania in the ’80s were triggered by the sight of the empty shelves and long lines, but I was touched by how graceful and patient people were with each other during this time.

Two conferences, a class trip and several other events have been canceled, and my students won’t be able to participate in the Scholarship Expo. I had to instruct my capstone students conducting field observations and interviews to stop all on-site data collection to prevent contamination.  

Initially, I focused on the practical necessities — stocking food, cooking, cleaning, disinfecting, and sewing masks out of cotton and shoe laces. Then, we focused on coming together as a family and finding activities for body, mind, and spirit, like playing ping-pong, exercising, reading, playing instruments, watching news/Netflix and playing board games together. I also worked on transitioning my courses online. I've consumed way too much news and social media during this time, trying to make sense of the rapidly changing world context, checking in with family and friends. The days have gone by quickly.

At home, I joked that over the course of the first week of Spring Break, we’ve slowly become more like our indoor cat, Mishu: eating canned food, staring at birds for a long time, getting fascinated by light spots on the floor, going no further than the backyard, climbing the deck rail and thinking it's a big deal.

What coping strategies have been useful or effective for you?

Staying focused on the present, exercising, connecting with my students, sewing masks out of cotton and shoe laces, keeping in touch with family and checking in with friends. Despite my best efforts, I’ve had periods when I couldn't focus, was filled with anxiety and felt downhearted. We're worried about aging parents at home in Romania with compromised immune systems and chronic conditions. They were lonely before, now even more. Thank God for WhatsApp!

What’s been the biggest challenge of this unprecedented situation?

The life-and-death stakes of the pandemic and its economic consequences worry me the most. My husband and I are lucky to be in good health (so far) and to have salaried jobs, shelter and food. I don't take it for granted. It's hard to hear about the growing number of fatalities in the world. The COVID-19 statistics and updates from doctor friends on the front lines here and abroad give me a sense of growing danger that makes it hard to focus on work and "normal" stuff. Besides the local shelter-in-place order and concern of contamination, there’s a broader anxiety about how the world is changing economically, politically and culturally because of this pandemic, right before our eyes. I have a sense we may lose certain things for good, and we don't know exactly what they are yet: some of our voice, privacy, our innocence, our ways of working together, of teaching, of maintaining relationships, touching and connecting? Our society might look different at the end of the pandemic, and we can't fully anticipate how, yet. I also believe there is an opportunity to renegotiate how we protect the vulnerable groups (children, the elderly, the unemployed), as well as our local small businesses, nonprofits, and artists — not just in the face of a pandemic, but beyond. 

I also anticipate students' anxieties about jobs now that the world of work is upended. One senior told me she never imagined this is how her last semester in school would look — no graduation ceremony, no collective goodbyes. A former student already texted me that she is out of her job because of COVID-19. I have high hopes she'll find another job, because she’s bright and resilient, but I would have liked to be able to take her worry away in the meantime. I think our field of communication is well positioned to provide job opportunities in training and talent development, in virtual teamwork, in virtual corporate communication or crisis management. The ability to present our ideas and connect to others online, choose our channels strategically, understand networks and organizational systems and adapt to change over time is ever more important.

What do you want others to understand about your situation?

Like my colleagues and students, I am getting ready for the all-online teaching and advising in the coming weeks. If we’re all patient with each other, it'll be OK. I draw a lot of positive energy from face-to-face interactions with my students and peers, and I'll try to recreate it in a virtual environment. Not being able to use public spaces like gyms, libraries, concert halls, coffee shops, stores, parks, or cinemas is likely hard on all of us, because they enriched our lives and our community's tremendously. There is hope that the sacrifice of staying home will pay off in a smaller number of COVID-19 patients. Let's all stay healthy and be kind to one another!

— Mary Brolley

Some media in Bradley University's current print, video and online materials was acquired before the COVID-19 pandemic. Media acquired after the pandemic began was done so in compliance with Bradley's COVID-19 safety protocols at the time. The ongoing safety of our faculty, staff and students is of the utmost concern during these unprecedented times.

Above: Elena Gabor