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In the past 60 days…

26 Mar 2020 | Xia Li Xia Li (Lisa) of Nankai University, Tianjin, China, details her experience of the Covid-19 pandemic in China and her university’s response to moving to remote teaching. On 1 April at 10am BST we will be running a live Q&A for members with our colleagues from Nankai, to see what the higher education sector around the globe can learn from our Chinese colleagues.

My husband and I should have been lying on the hammock enjoying the sunshine shedding from the old tall tree in the mountain of southwest China, Yunnan Province, celebrating Chinese Spring Festival if the Devil virus hadn’t visited. We cancelled the trip five hours before setting off to the airport after hesitating whether to go or not go for five days. Actually on 23 January, things still did not look that bad. So I do understand the response of people in the UK or any other places when it happens. No one had an experience of the virus, and we underestimated our ‘enemy.’ To be honest, the disappointment of a cancelled trip evaporated as all of a sudden the outbreak of Virus began to hurt more.

So we started the quarantine battle by celebrating Spring Festival at home. Sadly our celebrations were mute as getting together with family members, relatives and friends is prohibited at the moment.  

Stage 1 - Panic and anxiety

Via social media, we got to know the situation was getting more and more serious hour by hour, and day by day. From 24 January, we were required to stay at home and wearing a mask when outside became compulsory. We were informed through various channels that staying at home is the best way to stop the virus spreading.

We saw doctors and nurses rushing to Wuhan, and people were working day and night to stop people from gathering together. The experts said we were staying at home to fight the virus to help save lives. By so doing, we are making our contribution to the country. But the first 14 days were really hard.

My concern for my Mom, who lives in another city, increased greatly when more and more confirmed cases were reported. I kept contact with her every day - just to hear her voice and to know that she was safe and sound. The casualties are not just numbers but also lives and families that lost their loved ones.

I burst into tears the day I watched a video showing a young woman running after an ambulance carrying the body of her Mother, crying, “Mom, Mom”. We have witnessed many lives lost. Doctors and nurses exhausted. Life is hard for everyone. I felt angry about the selfishness of human beings, and moved by their sacrifice too. The only word I could use to describe those days is ‘unreal’. It seemed to be a nightmare: it looked unreal, sounded unreal and felt unreal.

For the first time in my life I had sleeping problems, waking up in the midnight and surfing internet to see the death toll soaring. I could not believe what was happening and didn’t know what would happen next, or when it would end. There were no answers. My eyes are welled with tears reflecting a myriad of emotion: sadness, warmth, anger, gratitude, disappointment, and humility at people’s courage and sacrifice.

Stage 2 - Be a warrior and fight by teaching online

Panic and anxiety harmed my productivity in the first 10 days. I felt restless, and could not concentrate on reading or any serious work.

Fortunately, I had little time to panic because, on 31 January, I was recruited as a member of a committee of Nankai University to prepare for online teaching for the coming spring semester. I had to work - and by working I got to know that many of my colleagues in Nankai are working very hard to fight the battle in their own ways. I am not alone.

The Teaching Administration Office of Nankai University provided an online training program for teachers to cope with the coming online teaching. I was one of the eight teachers to give training courses, online by live broadcasting.

Flipped classrooms are not new to Nankai. But teaching online totally without meeting students in person is another story; none of us had ever experienced this before. We designed the program into two modules: Module 1 consisting of six sections, to help teachers to open the online classes starting from how to login and upload the materials and contact students online. The goal of Module 2, which includes four parts focuses on ‘teaching design’, is to help teachers to teach online classes more effectively with quality.

Within ten days, about 2,270 teachers took part in the training program. It worked for two reasons: first, the effort our teachers made to learn new things. It’s a challenge for every one of us. And second, the program helps the teachers to overcome the obstacles to take the first step on teaching online. Helping others and being productive released my anxiety to some extent.                                                     

As the team leader of the Nankai Effective Teaching (NKET) group, which was formed with the support of Faculty Development Centre of Nankai University in 2017, I have been organizing a weekly meeting, usually on Friday noon for the past two years. We do miss the happy times we spent together, face-to–face, and we need this even more in the hard times. So we tried to keep connected online.

I started training seminars on how to teach effectively online with my teammates, once a week. While preparing for the training program, I created a virtual space so we could work together to design online teaching activities. We later found that an app called ‘Flyer’ works well and effectively supports collaborative editing, automatic online meeting recording, and schedule setting, etc. We needed to finish the tasks together as a whole to be empowered and overcome our anxiety.

I also started an online activity, ‘NKETers fighting Corona virus by teaching’, a series of blogs introducing what we are doing and sharing our course designs within Nankai and outside campus.

To inspire optimism and keep enthusiasm during the hard times, I made great efforts to make our voices heard by publishing the reports on Nankai News Channel and other social media. It does spur us on to work on course design, and more and more teachers around are seeking our help to have better online class instruction. And some teachers expressed their gratitude, saying our voices and course design are providing them with energy and hope.

It is frustrating to follow the news about the confirmed cases around China. With the ‘shading‘ on the maps indicating the impact of the virus was getting deeper and deeper, we decided to take the time of lockdown to make it more fruitful and divert our attention. I started a column called ‘Good Books to Share on Teaching’ for my team members to share the books they are reading to keep us productive and busy.

Life is even harder for those who have young kids. Without going to school and staying indoors, children are becoming more restless, which means more work for the parents. Once meeting online, one of the team members had to cut off the line for her young son was shouting. We shared food we made and the stupid mistakes as well to have a good laugh. To keep everyone of NKET in touch, I chatted with those who did not show up for the online seminar, not to pressurize them, but to let them know we do care for every one of us. We are a team, and we are the family. No one is isolated.  

Panic caused by teaching online is another stream making the bitter sea. I, with my quasi tech phobia, have had to learn how to use screen capture, to adjust the laptop and make it work, for in many cases I don’t know why it is working one minute ago but my students cannot hear me one minute later.

I felt restless talking to faces (sometimes faceless) without any temperature to tell me how it was going and slow in getting responses. What’s more, it is very embarrassing to have classes, discussing how to differentiate ‘beliefs and values in culture’ or ‘stigmatization in cross cultural communication’ with my husband around. All the pains were rewarded the moment hearing my students said, “Hi, Lisa, I am so excited to hear your voice and have discussion with classmates.” Yes, we make it come true, Classroom of Nankai in the air, all round China.

Stage 3 - live your life but not to endure

In the past 60 days in China, we have witnessed the generosity and solidarity of people. We try not to bring problems to others by being self-disciplined. Meanwhile, we are trying our best to make life easier for others by cooking, cleaning and sharing.

I experienced many ‘first’ times in the past 60 days. To be a host online to give live broadcasting for the first time; edit the videos by using software; learn to use EV (screen capture tool) to make courseware. I made steamed bread by myself for the first time, steamed dumplings, noodles, beef rice, pies, and pancakes. I also learnt to grow soybean sprouts at home. I don’t hate cooking actually, but I had never realized that, though cooking is time-consuming it provides energy, not only physically but spiritually. As well as that, cooking provides a strong sense of security and sense of efficacy. You have an idea in mind, and just do it, starting from preparing for ingredients. I think it is a lesson of life.

In the past 60 days, we survive by caring and helping each other; we contain the virus by being united; we win the battle by the sacrifice and the hardworking of doctors, nurses, community workers, policemen and every person in China.

In the past 60 days, these words keep dwelling on my mind: ‘global community’. We are connected not only by trades but by the virus also. Facing the virus, no man is an island entire of himself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

As an educator and teacher, what we should do to prepare our students for the future that everyone is connected, how to win the battle by standing together and through solidarity, respect instead of discrimination, love instead of hatred. Overwhelmed with rumours, we need to learn to think critically instead of spreading a virus of rumours and live with guts rather than bitterness.

At the moment, my daughter is at her homestay, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. As a mother, I am worried, but as an educator, I am not. The Bible says, treat others the way you want to be treated; we Chinese say, don’t treat others the way you don’t want to be treated. Facing death threat, we can see our soul better and making choice of being good or evil.

John Donne says: “Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; tolls for thee.” Let us stand up, speak up, and fight together.

Xia Li, Nankai University, Tianjin, China

Xia Li is a Senior Fellow of the HEA, Associate professor, Dean of General English Department, College of foreign Languages, Nankai University.


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