Some Thoughts on 2020, Coronavirus and Emergency Remote Teaching by Dr Eleanor Yamaguchi


This month, it’s a great honour and pleasure for me to share the following blog post by Dr Eleanor Yamaguchi. Originally from the UK, this highly educated Japanophile has been living in the Land of the Rising Sun for a third of her lifespan.

Dr Yamaguchi is currently working as an Associate Professor at Kyoto Prefectural University where she teaches undergraduate and graduate students courses in Japanese history and culture, particularly UK-Japan relations. She also lectures on Academic Writing and English communication as well as British culture and society. 

You can connect with Dr Yamaguchi on Twitter and find out more about her life on her blog which is full of interesting posts just like the one below. I thought this one was especially poignant as she shares her recent battle with pneumonia (and COVID-19 symptoms). She also discusses her thoughts on changing teaching methods as well as the future of education and she shows a deep appreciation for key workers and the kindness of others. Please enjoy her words of wisdom. . .

There really is no escaping it. Each morning when I wake up for a brief moment I am actually momentarily unaware of the awful disease that is currently crawling its way through the human race, taking out some, and causing great trauma for others. Then as my consciousness hits me so does that terrible reality.

I was entrusted with taking some KPU students to Australia in February 2020 for a study abroad programme. When I came back to Japan, I developed a very bad cough, which went on and on for weeks. Eventually by March, it turned into a full on case of pneumonia. Naturally, I was terrified, thinking I had somehow perhaps caught COVID-19. I went to the hospital and was simply diagnosed with pneumonia. I was not tested for the coronavirus. My temperature was up and down like a yo-yo, and at one point it got up to 39.4 degrees centigrade. I had trouble breathing and that’s when it got really scary. The second time I went to hospital I still wasn’t tested for the virus. Japan has had a policy of not testing many people. I was diagnosed with pneumonia, but even now I still wonder whether I actually had the virus. Did I just get a “mild” case of it? If they didn’t test me, how could they know it wasn’t the virus? I had so many questions, and so few answers, which seems to be a commonality in these strange times. My workplace asked me to stay home for a week, which I did. My health did eventually improve and I’m still around to tell the tale, unlike some poor souls.

Everyday we have seen how many more people have caught the disease and how many more have died. It feels like we are all living in some alternative reality of horror and we somehow veered off the normal path of life. Many of us are staying at home in order to curb the spread of the disease, and so we should, unless we are a key worker. There is a sense of being out of reality, of having fallen off the tracks of normal life. But this IS the reality. This IS normal life now, and we simply have to adjust, but how long for? Not knowing that is unnerving. For some, of course, life was already a horror story anyway even before the virus. Poverty, sickness, violence, depression, hunger, homelessness, the list goes on; people all around the world were suffering in some form or other to varying degrees. The virus has just come and upped the level of awful.

It sometimes feels difficult to find hope or joy in such times, but having said that life is very rarely, if ever, a linear process, and despite all the hideousness that surrounds us, there is often something to be grateful for. Despite the health scare that I’ve had, one good thing that has come out of this COVID-19 situation has been how much I’ve had to learn about new technology and teaching online. It even has its own name and abbreviation; Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) has forced me to learn much more than I ever thought I needed about EdTech (another abbreviation I had seen around, but never paid much heed to). But thanks to the situation we are now in, I’m discovering many wonderful tech tools that will be useful for the classroom, both during remote teaching and once I’m able to get back to the physical classroom. In the past, I’ve often wanted many of the tools that I’m only just now discovering, things like Padlet, Flipgrid, Quizlet among others. I’m glad I’ve been forced to learn about these things. Many of them I found out about through the FutureLearn course, Teaching English Online Cambridge Assessment English. I’ve taken a number of FutureLearn courses in the past and they have a lot of courses for learning about online teaching. The university I work at has decided to use the Microsoft Teams platform for providing online classes to students. I am still struggling with it because it’s a lot more complex compared to Zoom, or other video conferencing platforms. Fingers crossed it won’t take long for me to become accustomed to it. Either way, getting to know all this new tech has really begun to make me wonder about the future of university teaching, and how it will need to develop in order to remain relevant to future generations. 

For several years now I have wondered about the future of universities and the safety of my career path. In the past, I had heard fellow teachers discuss their worries about the declining birth rate, and whether there will be enough 18 year-olds to fill all of Japan’s universities. Are brick and mortar universities going to become extinct? Perhaps not the Oxbridges and Ivy League schools of the world, but what about the rest of us? Is online teaching the way of the future? That question raises its ugly mug again now that the pandemic has brought us into another world. A scary, unknown world, but also perhaps, a world full of potential?

At a time when we all need to stay home, it might be easy for people to start feeling bored, and I’ve seen several posts and memes online asking people what skills they have acquired during lockdown, or as the Japanese say, 「外出自粛」(gaishutsu jishuku) “refrain from going out” (another thing I’ve learned thanks to COVID-19; lots of new Japanese words). The virus has given everybody that has access to the Internet a wonderful opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills. My Japanese reading skills seem to have improved tremendously thanks to all the chat threads in meetings in MS Teams. I actually feel much busier working from home; no time for getting bored. Again though, on the plus side, at least I can work while I enjoy a good homemade cuppa. That is, until the Tetley teabags run out, and I can’t get more from the UK until the international postal services are running again.

How much I (we all?) took for granted before COVID-19; this is a wonderful time for reflection. It is also the perfect time to remember to give thanks more often, to prevent the horror stories of life and be a bit kinder. There have been many online videos, pictures, news stories and so on, of people thanking doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers on the frontline, and I am incredibly grateful to them too, but I think I also need to thank pretty much everybody else as well; the delivery staff, the supermarket staff, all the people who put the newspapers together, the kindergarten teachers who are creating educational, fun videos for my child to watch on YouTube, my friends and family, who maybe I can’t meet in person at the moment, but who dish out much needed cyber hugs and lend a kind ear. Thank you. Yes, you, kindly reading this, and right to the end as well.

We don’t know how much longer this situation will continue, so I for one am going to try and make the most of this challenging situation; stay positive, keep learning, keep reflecting, make lemonade out of lemons, ‘n’ all that.

Stay safe and well out there, folks!

Comments

2 Comments

  • Stuart Ayre says:

    It was good to read some words from a teacher adapting to teaching her students from afar.
    I hadn’t heard of Microsoft Teams. I wonder how Dr. Yamaguchi is getting on with using the platform.

    Right, time to make some lemonade!

    • Renae Lucas-Hall says:

      Thank you for your comment Stuart. Microsoft Teams have been advertising on TV a lot here in the UK. Their ad comes on quite often so they’re obviously doing a huge marketing campaign at the moment and it’s the right time for it because so many people have been in lockdown. In the ad, you can see the Metropolitan Police are using it, showing it’s a respected platform. I hope you enjoyed your lemonade!

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