This content was published: December 14, 2020. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.
Faculty leader Lisa George builds equity and inclusion into remote learning
Photos and Story by Abe Proctor
The Teaching Learning Centers (TLCs) at Portland Community College serve a myriad of purposes. They offer professional development opportunities, facilitate personal growth among faculty and staff, provide a communal space in which employees can cultivate a sense of belonging, and allow them to find ways to better express institutional and personal values.
When PCC’s physical facilities were shuttered and instruction migrated to virtual platforms due to the pandemic, the role of the TLCs changed dramatically. Online and remote instruction brings its own slate of challenges with regard to teaching efficacy, engaging with students and critical issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Lisa George, head of the Cascade Campus TLC and the campus’ community-based learning faculty coordinator, has met these challenges head-on by making available to her colleagues a wide range of readings, workshops, activities and other resources designed to help them be better educators during this unprecedented time. She also has been helping them learn to better foster an equitable online learning environment.
What are the biggest challenges for PCC instructors in terms of fostering equity and inclusivity during this time of online and remote learning?
Lisa George: When the college closure happened, a lot of us worked nonstop over spring break and beyond in order to bring our classes to the virtual setting. For some faculty, it brought the tribulations of first-year teaching back all over again, with the addition of all the tribulations that unfamiliar technology can bring. The challenge is … when people are working to implement equitable, inclusive and anti-racist practices: if we don’t consciously, constantly, and conspicuously keep pouring energy into the momentum to change things, they fall back into their previous state. This is extra challenging when folks are committed to equitable practices and at the same time are exhausted and overwhelmed. We can address this head on by repeatedly reminding ourselves, and each other, to bring our focus back to equitable practices.
To sign-up for one-on-one appointments, learn what steps to take, access information sessions and watch video tutorials, visit PCC’s Virtual Admission’s page. Students will get guidance, support, class registration and pathways to degree completion. In addition, current students can use the Virtual Help tab once they’ve logged in to access further support.
What are you hearing from students with regard to the particular challenges and obstacles they’re facing in this new educational reality?
George: I did a survey of my students this term and found that about 10% of the folks who were taking my classes only had the tech to access their course material by phone. Internet bandwidth for accessing online meetings is an additional challenge for people who are sharing wifi access with family members who are also doing online schooling or work. My students are also sharing that they need to support the kids in their households who are attending school online. It requires time and also emotional and physical energy.
Along with job loss brought on by the pandemic, there’s also the new ways that student schedules are fluctuating in response to shifting or declining employment opportunities and the need to accept whatever work hours that are available. And all of this is occurring as the pandemic exponentially increases existing structural and interpersonal environments of inequality.
Students in my classes are grateful that I’ve redesigned my due date policy. If a student turns in work a few days after a deadline, it doesn’t mean they learned the material any less. It just means they didn’t get to do something by a particular date. So I use due dates as term checkpoints instead of something that causes a grade penalty if they’re missed.
What lessons do you think the college can carry forward into a post-pandemic world, and do you think our overall educational environment can be improved?
George: We can innovate! We were able to keep so many classes going during remote operations because of the creativity, commitment, passion and teamwork of the folks who work at PCC. Any past hesitation we had about making changes in order to best serve our students can be put aside. We now know we have the ability to make change in order to continuously improve equity, access and engagement.
You’re a bicycle aficionado. Have you kept up with your cycling since the lockdown began, and if so, has it been a helpful coping mechanism for you?
George: I ride at least six days a week. When it’s bad weather I use a virtual cycling app. I’ve hooked up an old racing bike to a machine that receives my pedal power reading and sends it to my computer. The app then uses that info to create an avatar and places it in a virtual environment where I can ride with my friends from Portland and all over the world. It’s pretty fun. It’s not quite as fun as riding outside, but with some good tunes or a podcast playing, it does the trick.
What other methods have you used to maintain your mental and spiritual well-being during quarantine?
George: I’ve been watching Kim’s Convenience on Netflix, and I’m also really enjoying the current season of Star Trek Discovery. I’ve been working on a book, an Arab-American auto-ethnographic exploration of love and cultural survival. And I also enjoy hiking up hills in the Columbia River Gorge whenever I can.