Interview with Kimberly Rivers, 01/13/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐GL: This is Grace Lim interviewing Kim Rivers on Thursday, January 13, 2022 for Campus COVID Stories. Campus COVID Stories is a collection of oral stories from the students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Before we get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

KR: Kimberly Rivers, K-I-M-B-E-R-L-Y R-I-V-E-R-S.

GL: Now for the purposes of getting a good audio recording, tell us again who you are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

KR: Kimberly Rivers and I am the Interim Dean of the College of Letters and Science.

GL: Before we dive into your Campus COVID Story we'd like to get to know you a little better. Now just tell us a little bit about where you grew up.

KR: Oh, I grew up in Kokomo, Indiana.

GL: And where did you earn your degree or degrees?

KR: I got my BA at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. I got my MA, my Ph. D, 00:01:00and a license in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto and at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies.

GL: And how did you end up working here at UW Oshkosh?

KR: There was a vacancy for an academic staff position in history. The history department in, for the fall of 1995. And it was advertised at my graduate program. So I applied for it and got the academic staff position. And then I applied for the full time position the next year. And I got that job. And I've been here ever since.

GL: What year was that?

KR: That was, the first year was the fall of 1995. And then I was a tenure track member starting in the fall of 1996.

GL: And tell us about your position at UWO, pre COVID. So we're talking, you 00:02:00know, spring of 2020.

KR: In the spring of 2020, I was an Interim Associate Dean for the social sciences in the Dean's office for Letters and Science. And I had been doing that since the fall of 2017. So I was teaching one course and then doing academic work for doing administrative work for the college.

GL: And describe exactly what you did in that role.

KR: Lots of things, you do a little bit of everything in that role. So you, you interact with all of the chairs for the social sciences, you have to keep track of their budgets, what we call their checkbook. You work, you run division meetings, you helped shepherd curriculum, from those departments through the approval process. You help manage the tenure and renewal process, the promotion process, general questions and personnel issues that come up in all those departments.

GL: How big is that college?

KR: The letters and science? It has, right now about not quite 300 faculty 00:03:00members and instructional academic staff members. There are about 24 departments, I think I usually have those numbers in front of me, but something like that. It's the largest college on campus, and it's larger than the other three colleges combined.

GL: Now let's move to the early days of COVID. Do you recall the time that you the first time you heard about this virus?

KR: It was either the very end of December or the very beginning of January, we I think we all started to hear stories of a virus circulating in China, which we were assured was of no interest to us, and that we should be much more worried about the flu, as I recall that it was not going to be an issue in the United States.

GL: When you said we were assured by whom?

KR: It was in the news. I mean, I followed it. I'm always interested in questions of pandemics and illness because I'm a medieval historian. And the Black Death comes up all the time. And it's just one of those things that I've always followed. And so I paid attention right from the beginning. And I 00:04:00remember the new stories being pretty, pretty firm, that this was not something that we needed to concern ourselves about over here.

GL: At what point did you decide that this is something that we should be worried about?

KR: Sometime toward the end of January, it started to look more serious. And I was paying attention because I was supposed to go to a conference in Prague in April. And I was concerned about it because my ticket was being paid for by a group over there and I didn't want to waste their money. And I wasn't sure how they'd get it back if I bought the ticket and didn't go so I was following everything about travel and about what might happen. And I was thinking from pretty early on that it looked bad and I was communicating with my colleagues and they thought that I was entirely overreacting and was should just not worry about it. They came to see around in my point of view, eventually but it took a while

GL: What? You know, when did you get word from the administration that this is 00:05:00very serious, we're gonna possibly shut down or, you know, when was the first inkling that you got from the university that this is something we as a campus community need to be worried about?

KR: Oh, it was the week before spring break. Actually, it was the week before the week before spring break, I was at a conference with other colleagues here for navigate at the Stevens Point Campus. And it was this conference through people from all over the state to talk about how we could use navigate to increase student retention. And the morning went fine. Although none of us were shaking hands. But by the time we had lunch, other campuses started to leave. Their representatives were leaving, because they had just been told that their campuses were shutting down. And so one by one, they started to go, Oshkosh didn't. But part of the reason for that is that our schedule was different. And our spring break was one week later than everyone else's. And so these campuses 00:06:00had decided to close right before spring break. Oshkosh didn't close, announced they're going to close until, I think the Thursday of the week before spring break. And I remember this because I had a class, a Tuesday/Thursday class. And on Tuesday, I told the class that I thought there was a strong possibility that we were going to close down and go online. And they were all absolutely flabbergasted and didn't think that was going to happen. On Thursday. In the middle of that same class, the university announced that we were going to shut down and go online. So it happened quite quickly.

GL: And as the interim dean, what were you what went through your mind?

KR: Well, I was the associate dean at that point, I became dean in the fall or in that August of that same year of 2020. I thought I thought this was probably the right decision, although I wasn't sure I mean, no one knew how long would we would be closed or how much this was going to affect us. But it seemed reasonable, particularly because everyone else was shutting down around us. So 00:07:00we actually seemed like we were a little behind what other campuses had done.

GL: What conversation did your department have regarding this? At the very beginning,

KR: At the very beginning? Well, at the beginning, we we had not been sure how serious it was the dean at the time, Colleen McDermott was a virologist. So she knew quite a lot about this. And she had not thought it was going to be serious either. As as things went on, and she was on the EOC committee and she was interacting on it, then she really changed her mind and thought it was serious. But none of us were really sure whether this was going to be for the rest of the semester, or we be back in a week or two. I think at the very beginning, we didn't think it was going to be the whole semester or the rest of the semester.

GL: Do you remember what you actually took home from your office?

KR: Oh, yeah, not enough. So I took home enough to get through my classes and to run my committees for about two weeks. Thinking that I'd be back, I definitely 00:08:00thought I'd be back. And I did have to get permission to come back and get the things I hadn't taken home.

GL: So how was working from home? I mean, were you able to adjust, adapt, and also go online with your course we were teaching.

KR: It was a very well, it was really two things. One thing was about teaching the course. And one thing was about doing the rest of my job. It wasn't that hard for me to adjust my course because I already had everything in Canvas. And thinking that we were likely to go online, I moved the Collaborate Ultra link into Canvas so that my students could see it. It wasn't like a default position. And I showed them how to use it. On the day that I thought classes were going online. So they would know how to do it because it seemed to me that was a likely scenario. And so other than that, I took out one week's worth of readings, and otherwise I ran the class exactly the same and it was fine in terms of running the class. The students didn't always have good internet 00:09:00connection. And that was really the biggest obstacle to completing the course. Otherwise, it was okay. In terms of being in the Dean's office, we could do our job online half of our job is done through email anyway because so much of it is communicating with people and so it wasn't that difficult to do online honestly. The hardest thing is that you don't see people as much and a lot of being in an office environment is interacting with people and being on teams is a reasonable substitute but it's not as good.

GL: And some of the employees were roles were deemed essential. Were you among that group?

KR: No the Dean was essential. The associate deans were not essential.

GL: And did you work through the semester and then during the summer or what?

KR: I taught for the rest of the semester and then all my associate dean duties still go on over the over the summer. And then in August, the former Dean and I 00:10:00work for both Dean at the same time for one month, and then she retired at the end of August, and then I became the dean.

GL: When did you come back to campus, in person?

KR: I don't totally remember. But I think I was certainly back by the beginning of August. And I might have been in July because the place was utterly deserted. And they started to allow people in administration to come in. For most of I think, I think for part of July, I was in maybe one or two days a week, and then in August, maybe two or three, and then I kept that up during the fall of 2020. As well, I would come in for a couple days a week and then work remotely, it didn't make the slightest bit of difference, which I did in terms of my job duties. Because no one comes into the dean's office anymore. So much stuff is now done online. There, we don't get much foot traffic. It helped a lot to have other people in the office at the same time to interact with. But in terms of other things, it really didn't matter.

00:11:00

GL: Did your department you know develop a COVID response for your, how you did your work? Or how your department did their work?

KR: We did and that we gave people the option of working in the office or remotely. Once we once it was deemed that people were coming back to campus in August 2020, We decided we wanted to keep the office open. And so we made sure we had one person in the front office to keep it open and then always had at least one Associate Dean or Dean in the office and sometimes two. But as I said, we thought it was good to have it open because the faculty were on campus. And we thought we should be there too. But again, it really didn't make that much difference to how we did our jobs.

GL: During the early days of COVID, and also I guess, coming back in person on in that fall, what were your biggest challenges?

KR: By far the biggest challenge is that, and this is true now, confronted with 00:12:00the same set of circumstances, people on campus have had wildly different reactions. So there's a spectrum of reactions to COVID that goes from not at all concerned and thinks everyone has utterly overreacted, to people who are utterly anxious about the entire experience. And you just don't know which one which kind of person you're dealing with at first you have. So you have to figure out how to allay the anxiety of the very anxious while not letting people who are not anxious at all do things that aren't according to university policy. By nature, I'm a middle of the road person. So yeah, in some ways, you don't make anybody happy. But that's just how I am.

GL: We're talking faculty here?

KR: Everyone. I mean, I found that from people who are ADAs for faculty that just and in the general public, there's just a spectrum of reaction of reaction to COVID.

GL: And then how did that I guess, you know, are you hearing them personally 00:13:00about their, their, their thoughts, or

KR: It comes up for faculty, it comes up with the degree to which they want to be on campus. So some people from the beginning wanted to teach online, because they didn't think it was safe to be on campus at all. And they thought we were that the university should be closed. And that was the response they would, they wanted all the way through, which I didn't think was feasible for the university. But if it was possible, initially, we tried to, to let people who really didn't want to be on campus not have to be on campus to teach face to face. And then some people had to teach online because their classes were over 50 in the fall. Other people just weren't worried about it. And so they and they didn't understand why anybody else was worried about it. So you see this when you're trying to plan, you would see it when people would then call, contact us and complain about the decision they'd been given about whether or not their 00:14:00class was going to be online or not. Some people wanted to ask for special kinds of masks even fall 2020 they wanted N95 masks and not face masks. And so you have to you have to decide what is reasonable and then follow university policy and people aren't always happy about that.

GL: How much of your work during that time was dealing with these fears? Or, you know, dealing with this?

KR: I'd say probably 20 to 35% was about that we still have to run a college. So we still have to do personnel projects, we still have to make sure the course planning is going on, that the curriculum still getting done. So that's a lot of it. But nearly every day there was especially in the fall of 2020 there was some COVID related matter to be dealt with. Like for instance, students who had signed up for face to face classes then were asking for accommodation to go online, that took an extraordinary amount of time for people in our staff just 00:15:00to deal with that, because the mechanism we thought we had worked out for that is not what actually happened, because there were so many. So even that I might one of the associate, Dean's, I think just spent an extraordinary amount of time just dealing with that issue.

GL: Did you have to like explain to people why we need to have in person classes, we need to have our students back on campus? I mean, did you spend some time trying to-

KR: To people who were worried about it I didn't spend a lot of time talking to the college generally, because there was so much communication coming from the Chancellor and from the central administration about that, that I didn't want to mix the messages. And there were the town meetings that happened pretty frequently, there was a lot of messaging about that. So I thought that the role of the college was really to amplify and relay what was already coming from this central administration. So we did have to sort of restate what the university 00:16:00policy was. But I thought that our university policy was reasonable and was about as good a job as anyone could do. And I talked to colleagues at other universities, and I remain convinced that we handled it as well as anyone did, if not considerably better.

GL: What other challenges did you encounter that you weren't? You know, you weren't expecting?

KR: I wasn't expecting the responses to be so varied in a university community to be and I'm still a little surprised about that. I'm still surprised that only 78% of the faculty and staff are vaccinated, I would have thought that number would be higher. So that that has surprised me. I I thought that people would pull together as a society more than we have. I, In retrospect, that was probably naive of me. But I thought that that we would, and I think initially we did, but then for forces that are outside the university, I think started to 00:17:00pull us, pull us apart, but I thought it would be better than it has been.

GL: Were you able to bring COVID into your course lessons? I mean, you know,

KR: I haven't yet because I haven't taught once I became dean, I didn't, I didn't teach, I mean, Dean's normally don't teach. And I thought it would be better to continue that, because I didn't know what was I was going to confront. Although it was hard not teaching during that period. I'm teaching a class on the early Middle Ages next semester and I will bring in pandemic, because the first major outbreak of the bubonic plague was in the sixth century. So it's relevant to the class material. So we'll be talking about it.

GL: Were there anything about you know, the, what your how your department and you responded to the, you know, the virus that you were positives?

KR: I think, well, yeah. I mean, I think that all of us now see that we can use 00:18:00technology to interact with each other in a way that we simply hadn't grasped. It, a funny story is that, I think maybe a semester before the pandemic hit, we all thought we tried to figure out how to use Collaborate, Ultra, and we looked at it, and we thought it was kind of complicated. And we're like, yeah, I think this will work. I'm not sure I'll ever use it. And then six months later, we were using it all the time. We thought I'd also had someone introduced me to teams, and I thought, yeah, it's okay, I'm not sure what I'm gonna do with it. And now I'm on it all the time, constantly. So that is an aspect of our life that's this change. And I think that's mostly positive, it's really great to be able to contact people that way. My students really liked it, too. So I've liked that. I think we've pulled together as a group, and I think we know that we can rely on each other. And I think that's been good. Those are the easy ones I can say.

GL: How has you know, so you mentioned the technology aspect, I mean, has the 00:19:00pandemic changed the way you do your work other than the technology aspect?

KR: I, hm, no.

GL: Okay. No that's fine.

KR: Not really.

GL: And then the, you know, moving to the fall. So we've got through the fall of 2020. And that, you know, the challenges were there. Even, did you get any feedback from instructors about the flipping of the classroom that, you know, more and more students flipping from in person to online?

KR: Oh, yeah. Planning, and it was really hard for everyone and it was hard for the instructors and it was hard for the students. It's hard for the instructors. Some of them were not comfortable using technology before the pandemic and so they really had to figure it out. It was also exasperated, exacerbated, by the change from d2l to canvas, which had happened recently enough that a lot of 00:20:00people had not yet learned how to use Canvas. I was thanking my lucky stars that I had spent summer 2019 really learning how to use Canvas. So I already had it down for my class, but many people had not made that transition. So not only did they have to move things online, but they had to do it in a new course management system that they were unfamiliar with. That made it a ton harder than it was than it would have been otherwise, I think. And then it for the students that they they'd like everyone else had a mixed reaction. There's a small subset of students that absolutely thrived online and really liked it. And I think we should not forget that that body of students was there. For others, it was a disaster. That social aspect of learning can hardly be overemphasized about how important it is and the cues the students get from other students and the reminders about what to do and how to navigate things, and they all lost it. And that made it much more difficult to deal with the online classes. And so the 00:21:00problems that instructors had combined with the problems, the students had made it for a much tougher learning environment than it would normally be. And that's just how it is

GL: Moving forward, are we, you know, we're now what is it? Spring of 2020? Winter of 2022? Are we going to keep the, what do you think is going to happen to our online coursework? That is it is it going to stay, are we going to have Hybrid?

KR: Hybrid's the thing that worked the least well. So we have online classes, the asynchronous courses that we've always had, and those will continue and probably grow. Because there's a body of students that really liked them, they work really well for non traditional students that were never going to come onto campus. And those have got a particular kind of pedagogy that's already been thought out. And we have lots of instructors who know how to navigate that. So that will continue and probably grow. What was hard were, the synchronous, so the online courses that were happening live, as it were. That that can work in 00:22:00certain circumstances. We're finding in our college that that sometimes works for courses that are being taught on all three of our campuses. So some classes in mathematics and languages where we just don't have enough students and instructors to run separate sections on three campuses, we can reach all three at the same time. And in limited circumstances, when students know that's what they're signing up for. That's working for us pretty well. So I see that continuing. The hybrid in some ways is the hardest, because when you, and I find this for faculty to, you say you're having an in person meeting, and then you give them the option of just of coming in on a zoom call or a team's call, they'll tell you that they want to do it face to face, but the convenience of the online version means they'll often do that instead. And it's very difficult to plan for if they told you they were coming to the face to face version. And that is a challenge that has not yet been overcome.

GL: Did you get any feedback regarding the quality of instruction and learning 00:23:00during the early days to the fall 2021. The fall 2020. I'm sorry.

KR: I think everyone, everyone was trying really hard. And they worked really hard over the summer to figure out what might work. I don't think people in the event thought it was as good as it could have been. Not because they hadn't tried. But just because it was all much harder than they thought and because the interaction with the students was different from what they anticipated. And so it just I wouldn't say it was bad. But I don't think it was what people were hoping for.

GL: And then moving to spring of 2021, what were what was happening with you and your department and the college?

KR: We were I think people were a little more relaxed about the rules. They gotten used to the idea that you could be on campus without having a major outbreak. I think all of us started to realize that being on campus might be the safest place you were likely to be because everyone followed the rules. And you couldn't be sure of that if you left, left the campus. So except for the people 00:24:00who were always quite anxious about it. I think other people have relaxed and felt better about being on campus. Still, there's a lot of online learning going because the largest classes everything over 50 students was still online, so we still had to continue with that kind of pedagogy. People felt more hopeful as the vaccine started to come out. And I think that's where we were all disappointed because there was such a hopeful moment in the spring about getting the vaccines and that that wasn't entirely borne out by the events.

GL: How many of our in person formerly pre COVID in person classes are still online now? Which

KR:

Very few we went back to face to face and the people who are teaching online now because of COVID are people who have formal accommodations from HR, because they're immunocompromised or they have other circumstances that make it impossible for tend to be in the classroom, but that it's a small number.

00:25:00

GL: So we're now in January of 2022. How much do you feel that things are getting back to normal? And what, what would normal look like to you?

KR: Well, for as administrator and faculty member normal would be having all of our classes online, everyone being able to sit in the classroom not have to wear masks not be particularly worried about catching a disease every time you walked out in public, and we're not there. We're, we're, we're somewhere in the middle of where we were in fall 2020. And what normal would have would have looked like, everyone will still be wearing masks, everyone's still going to be worried and maybe more worried than they were in the fall because of Omicron. But then, you know, by February Omicron, may have died down again, we may be on to a new Greek letter, I don't know, what's gonna, what's gonna happen.

GL: And what has on you know, living and working in the time of COVID taught you 00:26:00about yourself?

KR: Yeah, that's hard to say. It in one sense. I know I, I personally, got through it okay. I, I have very regular habits. I treated working at home very similarly to how I worked in the office. Although I did feel isolated. I know that I can get through that. But I also have no idea of really how well I'm actually doing. I mean, I think it's okay, probably it's not, but I can't really tell right now. And I think it'll take a couple of years for the fallout to really to really hit. I expect that's true for a lot of people, you function, you do what you think you're doing okay. I'm not really sure if I am. And, but I didn't fall apart, kept things going. So I see that as a as a win.

GL: Oh, I forgot to ask you this little earlier. But what would you know, as the 00:27:00Associate Dean in the beginning, but then now as Interim Dean, were there things that kept you awake at night, during this time, from the early days of COVID, to now?

KR: Not very much I, I've, I felt from the beginning that the best thing for us to do was to figure out a way that we could, we could live with it. And I said, I'm a middle of the road person. And so I'm not the kind of person that's going to, like if I think that something, I think we're doing the right thing, then I'm going to just work for it. And I thought we were doing the right thing by keeping the university open. I thought, when the chancellor said at the beginning, we weren't going to close because of one case of COVID that he was right, because that just wasn't going to work long, long term. And I thought that our approach was the right one to do. And I actually was really glad to be able to work on it. I was also on one of the recovery teams. So I felt like I was doing something constructive. That and I'd rather be doing that than just sitting at home waiting to hear news of what was happening. So no, I didn't I 00:28:00didn't lie awake at night, every now and then I think what if we're totally wrong, and you know, people die from this. But I didn't actually think that would happen, I didn't think that was very realistic. And if I if I'm not really worried about it, that I'm not going to torment myself worrying about this to be honest,

GL: You were on the Recovery Task Force. And what was your role in that?

KR: I was on the finance role. So that we were the whole recovery task force was broken into subgroups. And so there was a group working on instruction, there was a group working on like safety and mitigation members and I was on the finance group. So I was on the group that was recommending how much money it was going to take to and compiling the data and how much money it would take to get facemask for everyone and for all the hand sanitizer and all that sort of thing and to recommend that funds be set aside to be able to make it possible for the campus to reopen in fall 2020.

GL: How the university actually responded to COVID had attracted you know 00:29:00national media attention, the attention of the Surgeon General, you know former Governor Tom Thompson, the board Regent present interim president. What did what did the university do? That was different from others, I guess.

KR: They thought it through. I because I was on the recovery Task Force I knew what the process was. And one thing that they did that I thought was I mean, there are many things I thought that university did really well. But one thing I noticed was that we came up with a plan and then thought through how we would deal with different outcomes. So we had what were these tabletop exercises to run through what happens if a student comes in gets tested as they're coming into their dorms and then it's positive. What will we do? What would we do If it happens during the day, what will we do if it happens during the night? That 00:30:00was, that seems like an obvious thing to do. But some other universities didn't do that. And I remember reading about a university that tested every single person who came in. And I guess they magically thought no one would be positive, because when they did find a positive case, they had no idea what to do. That seems extraordinary to me. So we didn't do that. We had the advantage of starting later than everyone else. And at first, we thought that was a disadvantage, because we thought everyone thought it'd be better to start early and finish before Thanksgiving so that you didn't have the spread after the holidays. But in fact, it was an incredible advantage to start later, because we saw what everybody else did wrong and what they did wrong. I mean, I mean, so I'd say wrong, but they saw what the problems were. So in a lot of places, there were a huge outbreaks right away. So we had the advantage of being able to see what those problems were like small groups of students partying in the dorms turned out to be a huge case of spread. So we knew Hey, don't do that right, right from the beginning. So we paid attention. We had the testing plan, we 00:31:00thought it through and it made a big difference.

GL: When were you asked to be part of the recovery Task Force? Do you remember?

KR: I think it was in May of 2020.

GL: Okay. And how often did you meet?

KR: Right at the beginning, I think we had two, a week or two where we were meeting all day long. And then we had time where we met in our subgroups, but it was pretty intense. Right that it was I think we met the end of May the beginning of June, because we were coming up with a task force recommendation to go to the cabinet. So that took quite a lot of time.

GL: Alright, so um, is there, you know, we talked about a lot of things. Is there anything else you would like to add? Before that, let's get let's go with, do you mind talking a little bit about your home situation working from home?

KR: Oh, sure.

GL: I mean, who are you living with, and how was the COVID protocols dealt with 00:32:00at first out your home?

KR: Well, I have my husband who always worked remotely and was almost completely unaffected by the pandemic in terms of his of his work life. So he was fine. He was kind of glad to have people at home, so it didn't bother him. I have two sons, one of whom was a sophomore in high school in May 2020. And another son who was in middle school, it was much easier for me and my husband to navigate the pandemic than it was for them. It was terrible for my, for my eldest son, as the loss of the social contacts was just really, really a huge problem for him. He found working online next to impossible. And it's actually helped me to understand how our students are dealing with it, because I saw firsthand how some people just did not deal well with this with this kind of learning and how important the social context was. My younger son didn't have that strong of 00:33:00reaction, but he would just kind of behave oddly and like most of his classes would be fine. And then he just picked one to do no work for so that he never knew which one it was going to be. That was a little disconcerting. And he didn't, and I'm not the kind of parent that looks over my children shoulders when they're doing their homework, butt I found if I didn't, very bad things were happening for their schoolwork. So that was quite stressful for all of us.

GL: And how's everybody? Are they back in person now?

KR: Yes.

GL: Okay.

KR: And it's quite a bit better. My youngest son is in high school now and really thriving. He's sort of back to what I would consider a normal in quotation marks school situation, the older son is still sort of clawing his way back to schoolwork because he developed some really bad habits. And I'm sure our some of our students have those bad habits to. Due dates are much more optional than they used to be. They've realized that, you know, nothing terrible happens if you don't turn something in on time. They're much more calculating about 00:34:00which assignments are worth doing and which are not worth doing. They're a lot freer about getting places on time than they used to be more cavalier, I think, then than they used to be. I see that in my son. So I'm not surprised that that would be happening for my students.

GL: Are you more empathetic to the, to the situation that our students have gone through because of this, or? I mean, I've heard from my colleagues about students not turning in assignment, we're having, you know, much more laxed relaxed attitudes or at what point do we have to say, hey, this is an assignment, this is a due date. You just gotta to do it.

KR: I eventually, yes, I'm not sure we're there yet. I mean, honestly, I am definitely more empathetic to students from having watching and I know it's not because they don't want to it's not because they're uninterested. They're just not in a spot yet where they can adjust to what the norms of college life used 00:35:00to be. They're not, they weren't even quite back to the norms of high school life. So I think it's unrealistic for people to think that's going to happen. And it's easier for us because we have spent so much more time in academia, we know what the norms are. And I know it's been terrible for faculty to try to, to figure out how to deal with students, but it's not all their fault. And it's just unrealistic to think they're going to be right back on top of things the way that it was before it's going to take some time and it for this group of students, they may never get there. I mean, I don't really know.

GL: I teach sophomores, so which means that they came in during the time of pandemic, so they never had a normal college experience yet.

KR: Yeah. Yep.

GL: I keep having to remind myself.

KR: Yeah, yeah, I mean, it's not I'm not pretending that it's easy. And I'm certainly thinking of this, as I'm planning a course for next spring. The good 00:36:00thing is I'm not as burnt out as some other people. So I'm like, yeah, I'm happy to be trying to figure it out. But I'm also thinking, Well, what is really realistic for this group of students? And what? What will serve them best to be able to learn what I want them to learn? But maybe not do it in the same way that I did it two years ago.

GL: Okay, well, anything else you want to add?

KR: I don't think so. I think that's about it.

GL: Well, thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your contribution to the campus cover stories that UW Oshkosh.

This is part two of my interview with Kimberly rivers, on January 13 2022. Couple of things I want to touch back on is the types of instruction that instructors were asked to do. Coming into the fall of 2020, you were on the 00:37:00recovery task force that came up with some different types of modalities. Can you just talk a little bit about that.

KR: Yes, the there was one subgroup of the recovery task force that talked about different kinds of instruction. And the ones that they came up with were to teach online, asynchronously, which was what an online course used to be where you don't have any kind of face formal meetings. And then there was online synchronous classes, where you were online, but you met at your normal class time. Then there were a couple other modalities that were new that people hadn't tried before. One of these was modified tutorial where you met with some of your students face to face and you might meet online at other times, and there was high flex in which you were trying to run a class, in person and online at the same time. What we found was the modified tutorial modality in particular was confusing for instructors and I think for students at the same time. It turned 00:38:00out to be hard to explain and hard to do. And in practice, high flex also seemed like an excellent idea at the time really flexible, offering a lot of options to students. And it was really difficult for instructors to do in practice, because it's quite hard to teach a class of face to face students and be able to attend to students online at the same time. And our classrooms just didn't quite have the technological capabilities to make that easy. It's not that it's an impossible modality, but you really need the right equipment to make to make it work.

GL: What kind of equipment are we talking about?

KR: Well better sound equipment is a big one. I've tried to do it in LNS council meetings. And what we found is that the sound equipment alone is very difficult so that people who are online have a hard time hearing people who are in the rest of the room speak and then it's an attention matter as well because it's hard to divide your attention and talk to both groups of students at the same time without making an effort the most of us didn't know how to how to do

00:39:00

GL: What were, what was the reason and coming up with these different types of teaching methods?

KR: The main reason was that were two I mean, one was the reality that there would be students who wouldn't be able to be in class either because they had COVID, or because they simply couldn't be on campus because they were immunocompromised. And because we had made a decision that all classes with 50 or more students would not be able to meet face to face because of social distancing in the classroom. So as soon as you have that decision, you look for creative ways to be able to meet student learning needs. So the modified tutorial one sounded really good in practice, because it'd be a way of teaching some students face to face while having others be online and you could rotate students in and out or you could just meet one day a week that there are a lot of different options. That turned out to be really, really difficult to explain to people, though everyone tried, and I can tell you that the academic affairs leadership considered scrapping that model during fall 2020. In the end, we kept 00:40:00it for one more semester, because we had spent so much time explaining it to people, we thought it would only further confuse people to get rid of it and come up with something else.

GL: Tell us about the work that was done in the recovery Task Force in and urgency about getting a plan for the university to come back in person with students on campus, etc, etc.

KR: I think people have already lost that sense of urgency. In the spring of 2020 most universities and colleges across the country were realizing they could be financially ruined by the by the pandemic. And I think people have forgotten that. That was one of the reasons why so much COVID Money was sent to universities, students were wanting their tuition back, they weren't in the dorms, and so all the housing money had to be refunded. All the dining of money that would have come in and that had already been spent would also have to be 00:41:00refunded. And it was people were going on furlough, I think a lot of people have forgotten that as well as that everyone except the faculty and instructional staff are on furlough for part of the spring and then into the, into the summer. So the financial reality of the university, which had not exactly been rosy up to March 2020, really looked quite dire. So when the recovery task force came to me, there was a sense of, we have to figure out what is a way that we can stay open, teach students probably as much as possible face to face, because they do better face to face. And that is what students told us they wanted, and also tried to forestall financial ruin. And, you know, that can look bad people can say, you know, you're putting money before people safety. But I don't actually think that was the reality, people needed to figure out how can the university function and so it was balancing a lot of different needs at the same time. And that was kind of fraught.

GL: And then was there a, what am I trying to say? Did people in the committee 00:42:00think that we could just magically bring instruction, our instructors back and everything will be rosy, and then student, the school will just go on as normal?

KR: Yeah, that was an interesting moment in the recovery taskforce, because the great thing about it was it had representatives from all across the campus. And there was a moment when we discuss coming back to fall, and there was an assumption from some of the people on the committee, that faculty would be absolutely fine with coming back to teach face to face in the in the fall. And it was already perfectly clear to me that that was not the case, that many of them were quite anxious about being on campus. These are generally the people who paid the most attention to COVID. And, and it's possibilities, and some of 00:43:00them are immunocompromised, and they're quite nervous about being in class with students. And I could see that that was not going to work. Or if we tried it, the kind of confrontation that we might have with faculty was not going to be pleasant, because I was seeing that at other universities. And there was a moment when I said, I don't think that's going to work, we're going to have to figure out how to have some faculty teach online. And you could sense that there was a kind of divide between the academic side of the university and everyone else, because they were quite rightly worried about what was going to happen. But you had to be realistic about what instruction could really be and how people would feel about being in contact with students.

GL: And this was in fall of 2020 and we don't we didn't have the vaccine yet.

KR: No, not at all. And in fact, many of us were quite dubious about a vaccine ever being developed, wasn't clear that it was even possible.

GL: And then, so when, when you convey that, that reality to the rest of the 00:44:00committee members, what happened.

KR: I think, to everyone's credit, they believed me. And so they, we all had to try and understand each other's point of view, because everyone on university campus comes from a different perspective. And we don't always talk to each other as much as we should. And that was actually one of the really good things about being on the Recovery Task Force is that you got to interact with people who you would normally never see, like, I was on a committee with Chris Tarmin from the police force, I never talked to anyone from the police force. So that was very interesting. And sort of also, just by the way, you know, while all this stuff was going on with Black Lives Matter over the summer, I had a very different perspective than I would have had if I hadn't been interacting with people from the police force on the university campus. So it just gave me a different look at things than I would have otherwise had. But you know, that was what was good because we were able to come together and figure out what was a realistic way to navigate the reopening the campus in the fall of 2020. So we 00:45:00there was some moments where we were all kind of surprised. But we got there, which I think is what matters in the end.

GL: And again, now moving forward, are you having any difficulties getting people to come back in person?

KR: There, there have been a few people who couldn't easily come back because they're immunocompromised, or they had other situations that made it impossible. And we sent them through a formal accommodation process with HR so that it would all be documented. And also, then it once it's on record, then you could figure that out, going forward. But you know, most faculty are back teaching face to face and the ones that couldn't easily do that we're teaching courses online that we would have taught online anyway, we just shuffled things around.

GL: What about students who some students obviously have, you know, let's say the health issues or other issues that can be documented that they would rather take the courses online, others might just want to do it because it's easier. 00:46:00How do you how do you deal with those?

KR: That was that actually was a bit of a culture change. And students had to react to that, because they thought that sense classes had been online all last year, that they would easily be able to do that this year and they were not able to do that. Because it was not, it didn't work super well, for instance, for instruction, it took a tremendous toll on faculty. And it wasn't clear that students learned very well that way. So we just said, No, you can't do that. So they either had to take a course online that would always have been offered online. Or they had to take classes face to face, though, that online accommodation hasn't really been there. And I have to say very few students had a formal accommodation to take things online. It wasn't common before the pandemic and there were not a lot, in fact, a few, but not a lot.

GL: Okay. All right. I think we touched on everything that we talked about.

00:47:00

KR: Yeah, I guess the other thing that maybe most people don't realize this by the fall 2021, we were back to having about 20 to 25 to 30% of our courses online and 70% face to face, but that's what we had always done, we'd always had 25 to 30% of our courses online. So in terms of that, the proportion of classes that are face to face and online, we were back to normal.

GL: And are we talking only college of letters and science or are we talking

KR: It's the whole campus,

GL: The whole campus. Wow. Okay.

KR: We've always had a fairly robust online presence, even before the pandemic.

GL: Okay. All right. Once again, thank you for your time and

KR: Happy to do it.