Interview with Ron Rindo, 09/23/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐ES: Okay, this is Emelia Smith interviewing Ron Rindo on Friday, September 23 2022. For Campus COVID stories. Instructor Grace Lim is also with Campus COVID Stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Before we get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

RR: Okay, Ron Rindo R-O-N R-I-N-D-O.

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

RR: So I'm a professor of English in the Department of English.

ES: Before we dive into campus COVID stories, we would like to get to know you a little better. Tell me about where you grew up.

RR: I grew up in Muskego, Wisconsin, spent my whole childhood there. And then 00:01:00right around the time I went to college, my parents moved to North Carolina, but I stayed in Wisconsin to go to school.

ES:

And what were your parents highest degrees and what did they do?

RR:

My parents both graduated from Cathedral High School in superior in the 1950s. Neither one went to college. My father worked at Allen Bradley company in Milwaukee. And my mom was mostly a stay at home mom, she did some bookkeeping for a farmer. She had a few smaller jobs, but her four children and she stayed home with us.

ES: Where did you earn your degree? Or degrees?

RR: So my maths, my BA is from Carroll University in Waukesha and my PhD is 00:02:00from the University of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee, and my PhD is in 19th century American literature. But I did a master's degree also there in creative writing.

ES: And how did you come to work at Oshkosh?

RR: So my first teaching job when I graduated, with my PhD, I had a tenure track job at Birmingham, Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama. And so I moved to Birmingham and taught for three years there. My twins were born there. And then my brother and I, my grandma was going blind. And she lived in northern Wisconsin and superior and she had a small cabin on the lake that I had visited, you know, every summer of my life pretty much. And my brother called and said she was selling the cabin that I want to go in with him and buy it from her. And so we did in 1990 and 91. And so then I decided I wanted to be back in Wisconsin, so I could use that cabin. It's pretty far from Alabama. And so I 00:03:00interviewed for jobs up here. And I could have gone to guess Davis Adolphus College in Minnesota, which was a really nice school or come to UW Oshkosh. And I really love the campus. And I'd liked the fact that it wasn't a small liberal arts college, which is where I was at, they were always sort of financially precarious when you're at a small school like that. And so we decided to come here to Oshkosh. And so I started here in 1992. And I've been here ever since.

ES: Tell me about your position at UWO pre COVID, before March of 2020. And describe what you did, what you do, who and what were responsible for.

RR: So I've been here a long time. So I've done a lot of different things. But I'm, I'm assuming you're asking mostly about my teaching, right? And so I teach courses in American literature and fiction writing, and nature writing, for both 00:04:00for English and for Environmental Studies. That's the three sort of main areas of my teaching. I've taught at the graduate level courses as well as first year student courses, all the full range. And I love all of them.

GL: Actually. I'm gonna jump in right here. Do before that in March of 2020. were you holding any leadership positions?

RR: I don't think I was in that semester. No, I don't think so.

ES: Okay, now let's move to the early Days of COVID. When was the first time you remember hearing about COVID-19?

RR: Yeah, would have been that winter probably probably that January maybe. Um, and then you know, as it got closer, um, that that spring, our, our youngest boy 00:05:00was doing a study away. He's our only child left in college, he was doing a study away at Cal State Chico. And so I remember talking with him in February, and he and all of his roommates he was living at within the national students at the time, they all had these really severe coughs and fevers and body aches. And so we were already thinking, oh, boy, maybe, maybe he already has it, you know, and in California. And so we watch the news regularly, you know, and you can see how it was just sort of getting closer and closer to the United States. And then I remember the week of when things finally shut down on campus, it was pretty clear we were we were headed that way ourselves. And so I remember, meeting with all of them, I was very fortunate and that I was able, once the announcement was made, we I still had a chance to meet with each of my classes. Before we went 00:06:00online. And we we could talk about how we wanted to adjust the syllabus and presentations and projects and all the things that would have required us to be in person. It was good that I had enough lead time that we could be together and talk those things through. Because he always says, Canvas was new to a lot of students as it was to me. So that worked out really well. So yeah, I think, you know, we saw it coming. It was like sort of a slow wave that you could see, that was sort of inevitably going to arrive, you know, and the fact that Noah was in California, gave us a sense that it was already here, probably.

ES: And you mentioned, part of your initial reaction was you anticipated the virus coming to Wisconsin and coming to the United States. But what was your initial reaction regarding the news that COVID was here?

RR: Well, it was pretty shocking, right? Because now I don't know in terms of 00:07:00chronology, but as soon as you're watching Andrew Cuomo on the news, and you're seeing those freezer trucks parked in parking lots with the overflow of people who died. You know, early on, you didn't know what the mortality rate was, you didn't know how serious it was. And so it really was pretty frightening. My my parents are 86 years old, and we're right now they were, you know, in their early 80s, then we didn't really know what was going to happen, you know, so I was definitely nervous about it. But I wasn't, I guess super frightened yet at that point. I mean, we didn't really, we weren't thinking everyone was going to die. But we definitely were wondering, and our The only thing that made us nervous, and I'm sure it was, eventually is, we were at home, then really technologically unprepared for what we were about to have to do. My wife is a 00:08:00teacher. We're not online people, we live in the country. We barely had workable cell phones, frankly. And we did not have a fast enough internet signal to accommodate anything other than email, like you couldn't watch a YouTube video at our house, for example. And you never could have used zoom or canvas or teams or anything. So that was something that was in the back of my mind, too. If you know if this happens, and we're going to have to pretty quickly get up to speed on technology, something that we had avoided or consciously avoided for most of our adult lives, actually.

ES: And how would you describe your feelings about the disease itself?

RR: Um, you know, I guess my nature is not to worry about too many things. I'm not a very anxious person. I'm 63. So I knew I was kind of in a, you know, possibly in a population that where it might affect me. But I can't say that 00:09:00everyone was worried about it. I mean, we, we were going to get the vaccine as soon as we could. And we did and my wife, we put up pictures. I mean, like everybody else, it was a huge moment. Then we both got vaccinated for the first time and we went hiking together. I mean, each time we got vaccinated or boosted it was you felt like you were doing something important for yourself and for your community. So I do remember thinking it could be something serious, but I don't ever remember being super anxious about it, I guess.

ES: Now, let's talk about your situation when the university closed the campus in mid March, you mentioned your lack of technology at your house. And how did that affects you when the university closed?

00:10:00

RR: Yeah, so I remember, you know, working with the students and talking about what were you going to do. And there were two things that I had to do. So I was scrupulously sort of opposed to online teaching. And I had never used Canvas for anything except to post my syllabus on it. So it was an entirely new platform for me. So the first thing I knew I had to do is learn how to use it. But then the second thing I had to do is we had these little flip phones. And that actually might look like an old Blackberry. It wasn't a flip phone anymore, but it was a track phone. And it was not a smartphone. And I just figured I would need greater access. So we had to get smartphones, first of all, which we'd never had before, we had a landline at the time only. And, and then we had to get internet. That was fast. The problem was we live in the country. And so at the time, I thought that the only access we're going to have is going to be like 00:11:00HughesNet or something, you know, a sort of a satellite internet, which my little brother had in northern Wisconsin, he said it was terrible. So it's awful a lot. And so I was like, "Oh, great". It turned out that the previous October CenturyLink had put in fiber optic cable for internet, literally right past our house, and the box was just about 200 yards down from our mailbox. And so, on the Friday before we were supposed to start teaching online on Monday, we had internet fast internet installed at our house. I mean, that's how close we were cutting it. And I did it online. And you know, I ordered it and then someone came and they bring it in, it's through a phone line. It my neighbor was doing it. So I talked to him about it. And it's not like road runner or anything. It's not like I think it's 40 megabytes per second. So but it's plenty fast for streaming and for zoom. And I can't even remember what we used at the time for 00:12:00our online platform. So literally, in two weeks, right, we had fast internet installed, we got smartphones, and I learned how to use Canvas.

GL: Like jumping right here for a sec. At that time in the spring of 2020. How many classes were you teaching?

RR: I was teaching three, three classes.

GL: Okay. And also, Why had you been so opposed to teaching online?

RR: For me, most of the pleasures of teaching have to do with the social interactions with students in the classroom. And I could not figure out how I would adapt my own teaching, right? Discussion based right? Face to face, reading students faces to see if they're understanding what they're not understanding. You know, a largely sort of social flash, emotional intelligence 00:13:00based kind of pedagogy where you really are interacting with students as a group, but also individually. And I just couldn't understand how I could adapt that to an online platform. I'm also sort of technologically averse, just from some of the work that I do. And in my nature, writing classes and environmental studies classes. For example, we issue children, Chromebooks, or iPads, and their kindergarten, first grade, or whatever. And this is something that everyone wants and they look forward to, even though the data show that if you take notes with a pen and paper, you retain far, far more information than if you just hear it or see it on the screen. Or even if you take notes on a computer, right? So, you know, I know that the research on learning and retention tends to favor sit down academics and pen and paper academics, as I 00:14:00say rather than online. And so for reasons, both personal and professional, I guess I was resistant to online teaching and learning.

ES: Do you remember how long is that the university was going to be closed after they sent you home?

RR: I don't think I had any preconceived notion, I think when the chancellor announced the closure, I'm pretty sure immediately or shortly thereafter we were we were told we'd have two weeks to prepare. And so I needed every one of those days it turned out but if we had just done a week, it would have been pretty tricky for me, I think. So I had a lot to learn. Really a lot to learn. And our learning technology people here on campus were amazing. I mean, they were absolutely amazing. I Think I had, if there was no such thing as speed dial in a 00:15:00cell phone, I was also learning to use a cell phone at the time. But Sarah Bradway. I mean, I emailed or called Sarah Bradley and Bradway, she let me call her at home. And you know, every question I had about Canvas, if I emailed her, I got an email back within like, five minutes. And if I called her, it didn't matter if there were children in the background crying, she would answer and talk to me. I mean, she was sort of a lifeline for me here. And all of the online trainings put together by Sarah and Jordan, Landry and that group, I mean, I use every one of them, in addition to cruising around YouTube, watching videos of other instructional technology of people and how they structured their classes, or how they taught how to use Canvas. So within a short time, I've pretty much figured out how I wanted to do it, and what would work for me. But it was a tad stressful initially. Because I literally never even looked at the 00:16:00platform, I had no idea what a module was. And then the thought of doing it on video, you know, and a little worried about, because I knew none of that would work in the current speed of our internet at home, which was basically just enough for email. It was a satellite, a local satellite company, and we had tried a couple of times to get faster internet, but they said where we lived, it wasn't available. So I was just fortunate that the October before then, we had gotten CenturyLink. Or we would have been in trouble, we would have had to go to teach from Starbucks or something. I don't know what we went into.

ES: And you mentioned that you teach multiple classes in your department. Describe what happened in your department? What did you discuss with your team? Who is your team? And what did you do about what needed to be done before closing?

RR: Um, so I know, we had some conversations in that department, I wasn't in the 00:17:00administration and the department at the time, right. So but I know our department chair and associate Chairman, I know, I remember them talking about it, and you know, sending out information as it was filtered down to them, you know, through the provost, and the deans offices and so forth. I was probably one of the more technologically challenged faculty members, not the most, however. And so I had, you know, through me know, I'm resistant to learning things, but when when I need to learn them, I'm capable of learning them pretty quickly. So, you know, I, I didn't really complain about it. I knew what I it was our only option. And so I mostly just got to work. You know, I just sat down at my computer. And I, I started working in if I had questions, and there were colleagues who were in the department who were far more, and it wasn't hard to be far more expert in Canvas, and I was I was pretty much at the very bottom, 00:18:00they would answer those questions for me. And everyone's structures, their Canvas pages and instruction a little bit differently. I found that out. And so I just arrived at one that worked best for me. I remember sort of one moment, I was watching a video of a presentation. I think it was from one of the instructional technology experts at Stanford University. And it's like a 10 minute YouTube video. And she just sort of walked people through how she would lay out a course pages or a separate module for each week. And then you have the pages and, you know, assignments and files. And I mean, for whatever reason, just the way she explained it. And the way she showed it, it all just sort of clicked me was probably around the end of that first week when I was working on Canvas, and then from then on, I was just building my my course pages for the three courses that I was teaching.

ES: And once you got the hang of Canvas and laying out your classes online, how 00:19:00difficult was it to teach remotely? Was it more or less? Was it more or less work than teaching in person?

RR: Um, I think it was initially it was more work than teaching a person just because the technology was still new. Right? And so rather than facilitating what you wanted to do, you had to overcome your lack of knowledge, you know, facility with it. After after the first few weeks, then it became about the same, I would say in terms of difficulty, right. The problems with online teaching early on for me, we're just maintaining engagement and trying to get a sense of what the students were learning having questions about right there was at least in Initially, and I think it's a, it's a common problem, I'm trying to 00:20:00get students for example to, to click on their cameras, so you can see them if they had a question, trying to pay attention to the little, the little hand that would be raised, you know, while you're, you're looking at in different places for different things. And still the hardest thing for me it was not being able to see faces. Ironically, that didn't change. When we came back to campus, when people were wearing masks, it was very hard to get a read on what people were thinking when they had masks on. So that also made it difficult to really read people's faces and see what they were thinking and be, you know, able to call on people that you thought were having questions, but maybe weren't quite there in terms of one year, raise their hand and so forth. So there were definitely some barriers with the first few weeks in the online. And I gotta say, the thing that I loved the most was I messed up a lot on Canvas early on, you know, and 00:21:00students rather than going crazy, right? And reading the right activity, they would kindly email or send me a message saying, oh, you know, you didn't, you didn't publish that. So we didn't, we can't see it. Right? They would always, I felt like we were partners in a grand experiment, right. And they were a lot of them just as nervous about the technology as I was. And so we just agreed at the outset to sort of help one another through it, and they had trouble, I was going to try to help them and not hold it against them. And if I had trouble, they would do the same. So there was a really strong sense Ithink that that first spring, especially of just camaraderie, a lot of students were really, really nervous about COVID. I mean, a lot of students were afraid for themselves for their parents. So in addition to the complexities of the online world, they were also very anxious about their own health and the health of their families, and grandparents and so forth. Kids in Wisconsin are really close with their 00:22:00families, not just with their parents, but the grandparents as well. And I think that that came through pretty clearly in this switch and with COVID. Especially.

ES: Hold on one second. Okay. I do want to go back a quite a ways. When you were talking about your again, you're you're being so averse to technology? And I believe. So. I've heard this from more than one person that you had a famous quote from your was something in the line of "I will use Canvas or dt, well, when hell freezes over"? I mean, it's something like that was I mean, is that correct? I mean, was that there? Do you say something like that?

RR: I did say something like that? Well, in context of a conversation about a great experience I had with Canvas, which was, you know, several semesters later, when I did it, completely online class, by choice, a graduate creative 00:23:00writing class for teachers around the state of Wisconsin and some of our graduate students here. I had exchanged email with Provost, John Coker. And basically to say, you know that, at one time, you know, this would have been true. And so it must have frozen over because I have voluntarily taught an online course. And it was a marvelous experience. It went extraordinarily well. It was one of the best creative writing workshops I've ever taught in a 30 year career, and it was an online class. So yeah, that that occurred. I think this last spring, actually, last spring, or fall, one of the previous two semesters.

ES: So at the time of spring 2020, you What were you teaching? And how many classes do you have? Did you have and how many students do you have in those classes?

00:24:00

RR: I think that semester, I should have done a little more prep on this. I had three classes and I think I had two sections of nature writing, which is English Environmental Studies. 243. And then I would have had, one probably would have been American Lit, I think, but the nature writing classes I remember most most vividly.

ES: And you mentioned,

RR: I'm sorry, about 75 Students 75 to 90, somewhere in that range. I'd have to check my my rosters.

ES: And you mentioned a camaraderie with your students at the time for zoom and for learning how to do this online learning. What kind of feedback were you getting from students in regards to their learning experience and other COVID related issues?

RR: So the students The community, right that formed online that first spring. 00:25:00It was this combination of students who were extremely anxious about the technology, and extremely anxious about COVID On the one extreme, and the other students who weren't so anxious about COVID, and who were very, very accomplished with the technology, right. And so those students were really, really helpful, not just to me, in terms of the technology, but in terms of one and helping one another, too. So I think that that, for me was, I mean, it was a really mourning, moving experience that for spring, because everyone felt just sort of shell shocked and unable to sort of find their way. And some people were never leaving their home, right. Some people were getting their mail and letting it sit in their garage for three days before they brought it into the house thinking that COVID could be on their mail. I mean, it early on, there was so little known about the virus and how its spread. And that was always in the 00:26:00background, right of all of your classes, right? There was always this, this sort of foreboding sense that you know, something is is going on. I mean, I wouldn't, you know, ascribe it to like London, and the plague years or anything, because of the death toll wasn't at that level. But there was this feeling that as a group, we were all going through something that we'd never gone through before and might never go through again. I mean, there was an awareness that something was happening that was new and strange and different. And how people handle that I think was reflected in their, in their classroom demeanor, and and their work. And in our conversations, it was hard for that not to bleed into classroom work, it just was very, very difficult, you know, to do that, in nature writing. One of the books that I present, as an example, is a book called The World without us. And it's a book that is sort of a futuristic look at what 00:27:00might happen. On Earth. If human beings weren't here, you know, what would happen in New York City, what would happen to the Great Wall of China, to dams, to nuclear power plants, and so forth. And one of the things that comes up in that book is it says that even if a virus with 100% mortality rate would strike the population, there would still be this small core of people who had natural immunity to it. So you know, I've been talking about that book in class, from time to time for years, right. And all of a sudden, we were living in a moment when that was, at least initially a distinct possibility. So there was some overlap in particularly in the two nature writing classes to what was happening in the world. And what we were talking about in class that I think made COVID even more prominent part of what was in our minds at that time.

ES: Now, vaccines were still not available in the fall of 2021. But 2020 2020, 00:28:00fall of 2020. Sorry, but were you teaching in person or remotely? And what were your challenges regarding that semester?

RR: Okay, so if I'm remembering correctly, that's Minster. That was a semester in which students could choose to be in person, or online. That was the most challenging semester of my career without question here at UW Oshkosh. Not surprisingly, I chose to teach in person, right. And so I did. And I had a varying population of students in each of my classes, that would show up either in person, or online. So even though you had some students in your class, right, and that number, sometimes would be as many as half as few as five or six. 00:29:00Right. So that number varied. And the number of students who are online also varied, right, you had to teach a face to face class essentially, and at the same time, pay attention to what was going on in the computer. And so you had to build the class, so that students who were taking it online, had full access to all the material and all the conversation and the discussion and so forth. I think it was Collaborate Ultra. Still, at that time, it was the online platform we were using. But you also had to pay attention to the students in class, but they were wearing masks. So it was not easy to tell what anyone was thinking at any time. And again, you know, what I had to rely on often was students who were in class, who would say they were seeing the screens, you know, the class was beamed in class as well. So if someone raise their their little yellow hand on the screen, I usually missed it or I didn't hear it. Because I was focused. on both students, they would point out So inevitably, one student would appoint 00:30:00yourself as the person in charge of keeping track of the online discussion to tell me that someone had a question. And then I could call on them and we could hear their voices. There were a lot of technological problems that semester, because I think all of us were more comfortable, but our expectations for the online platform are higher as well. So we expected that students would be able to see them online, we'd be able to hear them if they had a question. Some students never clicked on their microphone or on their their cameras, they would type their questions in the chat. So there were three things going at the same time, then there was a chat, there was an online discussion with people and there was a session with the students in the classroom. So for me anyway, who just recently has learned how to drive and talk on the phone at the same time, I am not a multitasker, and students are right. I mean, my my kids are, my oldest 00:31:00kids are 32 and youngest is 22, they can all do three, four things at the same time, they've grown up doing it. So for me, this was like juggling eight balls at one time. And I really had to rely on the students who are in my classroom, through their just kindness of their hearts, right to help me keep track of what was going on behind me on the screens. When I couldn't be sitting at the desk. I walk around a lot when I teach them when students talk in class, I walk over toward them a little hard hearing in one ear, but I'd like to get close to them so I can hear them, and look at them and acknowledge what they're saying. And then I had to kind of try to stay in front of the computer, right at the same time, and students had to be able to hear me. So that was a really exhausting semester. Without doubt, the hardest sort of semester I've had in teaching. But again, the generosity of my students almost makes me cry. I had to think about 00:32:00that semester, because they were so kind because that was a hard thing. And they all helped a lot.

ES: And you mentioned so many technology advancements for yourself. And for the UW Oshkosh community. What are you most proud of regarding your response to COVID-19? And where they all positives?

RR: Yeah, so the thing that's interesting now is I teach in person again, 100%. Right. But I use Canvas really extensively. Now. One of the things I think, and I don't I don't mean this in in any negative way toward students, but student attention spans are shorter now than they were. And I think that has to do with social media and has to do with their consumption of like Instagram and Twitter, everything is faster and shorter. So even getting students to read longer texts or full books, it's more of a challenge. Now, when I would have a 90 minute class in the past, I would feel like if we had a short break the class into 245 00:33:00minutes sections that would work, right, or a three hour class, you know, take a break after 90 minutes. I think now, I tried to break those little modules up in class and in smaller chunks, right. So students get get a change on a more regular basis. Canvas helps me show short clips of TED talks or videos, right, I can meet students with some of the kinds of media that they're consuming every day on their own, rather than just reading something on a page, and then talking about it, right. So Canvas has been very useful for that. It also enables easier to for students to make up a quiz. For example, I could put a quiz on Canvas, specifically just for one student. And they can do it on their own. And you can set a time limit just like you would would have done if they'd been in class. So the technologies I'm using them to sort of enhance the face to face teaching 00:34:00that I've done. I should return to that online class, though. When my department chair asked me if I'd be willing department chair and our Director of Graduate Studies said we have a lot of students who are interested in taking an online creative writing class to graduate students. We have a small graduate program here, it's a 700 level class, it would only be graduate students. And furthermore, we would like it to be online because we have all of these teachers who want cap certification to teach creative writing. And so because I was pretty familiar with Canvas, I had fast internet at home. I agreed that I would I would do it. It would be a creative writing workshop. And we would do, you know, some short, short essays and we were working on short forms, short essays, short fiction. And so I think it was the first zoom semester actually. So I learned yet another I mean Learn, so you just turn it on and it works. But it 00:35:00was slightly different than Collaborate Ultra right within teams. And so I had a really motivated group of 16 graduate students, I think six of them were here at UW Oshkosh. Some of them would come to my office during office hours, for example. But the other 10 were teachers scattered all over the state of Wisconsin, English teachers. And the quality of the community that we formed that semester, was extraordinary. And that is one of the most important components of a creative writing workshop, right? What happens when workshops go best? Is there is this level, almost, it's just wrong way to phrase it. But it's like a level of friendly competition that occurs when someone writes something that just knocks you over, then you feel like, boy, I gotta, I gotta use the cliche up my game and write something really good. So what happened then is the students started writing stuff. I mean, I would say, you know, conservatively, 00:36:00there were six to eight things written that semester that were publishable that were so good, that were just extraordinarily good. And the students not only were writing amazingly well, they were so and we worked at it in the beginning, one of the things he talked about is how to be a good reader and a helpful reader. You don't shy away from criticism, but you don't, you know, just focus on what's wrong, right. And in Parkinson, there were a lot of experienced English teachers there who already knew a lot of these things, I think, the way in which they talked about one another's work and supported one another's work, while also showing and talking about where things just were not working well, right, where the language was poor, the struct sentence structure, the syntax, or the imagery or metaphor, whatever. Right. So I mean, I went from kind of dreading that five o'clock to eight o'clock timeframe in the beginning to just 00:37:00not, I couldn't wait to get to my computer at five o'clock and see all those faces, like the Brady Bunch popping up on the screen, you know, and by then you can see everybody in one place, right? And you could see the yellow hands. And I would have to just ask one question, it would be like, boom, boom, boom, it would just be like fireworks, all those little yellow hands going off. And they were kind and they all knew the technology, too, right? We only had one student who struggled with the technology sometimes. And he was living in the country, and he had a slow internet connection. And so we had all but everybody sort of helped him, right. I'll call him, John, he wasn't doing what St. John will see John, you know, try this or try that. And sometimes we can hear him, but we couldn't see him. And sometimes we could see him. We couldn't hear him. But, I mean, in that instance, the technology, I think, was an asset rather than a hindrance to that class. And I think there were a combination that everybody was 00:38:00good with the technology. Everyone was extremely motivated, and thoughtful, right, they were mature and engaged with the material, but also with one another. And so by the end of that semester, it felt like we were just this large book group, you know, that got together every Thursday. And I know that I was one and I know a number of the others mentioned that as well. They were sad to see that, you know, I love teaching, but there's not a lot of semesters where you can say, Boy, I'm really sad this the semester is over, right? Just like students, we, we get tired out, and we're ready to start a new one. But in that case, it was an online class. So yeah, that led to my conversation on email with John Coker, you know, just said, Man, I "all my life, you know, hell would freeze over before I would teach an online class, but it's frozen over-- because I did it and it was amazing".

ES: Building up a community with these online platforms with something new just 00:39:00said, was very important in a positive. But there was also a lot of other changes regarding protocol and classes and learning technology. What do you think COVID has changed permanently in regards to your work? And do you think we will ever get back to a normal that we used to have?

RR: Um, that's, that's a really, really good question, because it's something that I have thought about a lot. You know, I think COVID has I think it's made students a little more anxious. You know, I shared this with a student group the other day that I just recently read that since 2016. That was even four years before COVID diagnosed cases of anxiety, depression and in that age group, right has gone up 135%.

00:40:00

So I see that for sure. I think the technology and I'm guilty of it, too. We have department meetings that are online.

I become a distracted kindergartener when I'm when I'm in an online meeting. Right? It's, it's hard not to move over to your email, right to minimize the main screen. And let me just check my email quick while I'm on this, and this, you know, and so that the, what's the word, I'm looking for the temptation to multitask? When you're in an online class, I can understand why students do that. It was frustrating to me that fall semester, when you'd have the list of students down the right side who are online, right? And you would click on a name and ask them a question. Right? Ask them to activate their microphone. And, you know, it was pretty clear that there were some students who were activating theirs. And then just going back to bed, it was an eight o'clock class, you 00:41:00know, and so that looked like they were there. But there was no way to tell that they were there. So it does make online learning, I think requires a higher level of engagement from students, because it's easier to get distracted. So one of the things that I've started to do, ironically, is to ban technology in my online class in my face to face classrooms. I insist that cell phones get put away, not just on the table, because there's still a temptation there, but in a backpack or under pocket, and that we closed computer screens, and that we take notes on paper. I'm doing that this semester. The first year students in my American Lit class, there are a handful that are really struggling with this. 90 minutes without access to their phones, is impossible for them. I find them with suddenly see people looking under the table, and I have to remind them, please take your phone and put it back in your backpack. I feel like I may have to do one of my math colleagues, Jennifer Sedlec, when we team taught a class 00:42:00together, she told me sometimes even in a 90 minute class, she gives him a break after 45 minutes and says take out your phones, check, check your phones, just so that maintains the concentration in class, right? The world is flying by right the metal world on those phones, and they don't want to miss anything there. And I think COVID sent students to screens in greater numbers and for many more hours of the day, and I think some students at least are having trouble coming back to the real world. And I think that that's happening. And so I'm trying to help them. But I can see that some students it's a really it's a huge struggle to not have their phone active all the time.

GL: I just want to double check. You started the banning the technology this semester of Fall of--

RR: 2022. Yeah, I did. Yeah, exactly. So up until this one, I didn't feel that 00:43:00that I could, you know. But I, I feel like that, that negative. That exposure, that constant immersion on screens, and the distraction and the multitasking that it invited, I think students are still trying to bring that into the classroom. And I think that happened last semester. It happened a lot last semester. And I just decided, You know what, I'm going to have to be a little more firm about this now. In the past, you know, I let them follow. Some of the texts are on Canvas, right? I mean, some of them are files or PDFs. And so I would let them follow along on their phones or on their computers. It didn't take you long to realize that some of what's on those computers, and that you're only seeing the back of this is not what you're reading in class. It's other things, right? People are working on a fantasy football rosters in the fall, or what you know what I mean? So in order to bring them all together, right, and to create that community where we're all focused on the same thing at the same 00:44:00time, in face to face classroom, you know, unless there's a student who needs special accommodation, they have physical difficulty, and they can't write notes, for example, or they prefer what they envision trouble to look at the text on their computer screen rather than seeing it because I'll put it up on the overhead. So we're looking at the same thing at the same time, or we're looking at book, right. So that's the one negative I think I do think that students are more distracted, their concentration spans are shorter. And their attraction and I understand it, I have kids, right. I know. I think the the data, I talked about this in class to 37% of students are online permanently, permanently in that 18 to 30 that they're never not online. 75% of people sleep with their cell phones, right? This is a fascinating data point. 10% of people check their cell phones while they're having sex. That number goes up to 20% And in the younger age group, can you imagine? I mean, it's fascinating. So I mean, 00:45:00there's data out there a self, you know, reported data that shows how important the metal world is to people. And so when we're in a classroom, though, I'm really I'm going to be pretty firm about it this semester that that computers are close phones get put away, I see struggles, particularly in first year students who have just I mean, these poor kids, right, I'm, their last two years of high school, pretty much gone. And those are really important two years to kids, you know, prom, and homecoming. And there's so many things that happen. And I'm trying and I am very upset, right to how difficult their lives have been, and the anxiety that all of this has caused them. But I'm trying to usher them back toward a face to face life, I guess. And so I'm going to be really firm. We'll see how it goes. I was talking to some friends at Ripon College the 00:46:00other day about that, and they're like, written out, you're not gonna allow computers? And I'm like, no, he's like, good luck with that, or whatever. But it's going okay, so far. But it requires particularly in one class, a lot of reminders in the course of 90 minutes, I might have to say, four or five times, please put that cell phone back in your backpack, you know? And that's just, you know, first year quest one class, right. And so they're already really, it's more, and I love it, but it's more like teaching a senior high school class, in a sense, you have to attend much more to classroom management than you would otherwise. I will do it.

ES: You mentioned a lot of improvements towards yourself and your ability to, to teach online and just a lot of improvements altogether. What living and working during the time of COVID? What has it taught you about yourself and about others?

RR: Um, yeah, that's a really good question, too. You know, this solitude of the 00:47:00initial sort of semester, right, my wife and I are at home by ourselves. I'm quite contented with that. But the thing that I found now that I'm back on campus, is I just really, really love being with people, you know, having colleagues in the department to just walk down the hallway and poke your head and and talk to someone, I didn't realize how much I missed that until I was back 100% In person, and to have students in a classroom again, right, where you can look at all of their faces and not see Earth, right, the ministers black veil, you know, from Hawthorn and that short story, it I had a hard time learning their names. And I didn't realize fully how much I rely on my ability to see faces in my teaching, like how important that is, to me, and how important it is for students to see my face, too, you know. So that was a 00:48:00barrier, that mask barrier. This semester, I'm teaching the same honors 175 class, a team teaching, but Sabrina Miller Spitz and the microbiology permit that I taught last fall, right. Last fall, we were all wearing masks, and we were all socially distance in the classroom. This year, there are no masks, and no social distancing. The difference in the energy level, and the ability the students to engage with the class and to talk to one another to talk to us. It's night and day. It's like that mask made it difficult to engage with one another, even in a, you know, face to face way. So I think I don't know about everybody else. But for me. I mean, it has been such a joyful semester to be on campus again, without masks. Yeah, it's just been extraordinary.

ES: Knowing that, you know, now, what would you have done differently in regards to your work here at UW?

00:49:00

RR: And, in terms of technology, maybe you're asking?

GL: Is there anything, I mean, knowing what you know, now, I mean, it's been over two years since we were first sent home. Is there anything that you would have done differently?

RR: Oh, that's it. Yeah. Okay. Sure. I mean, I feel like I always was aware of how fortunate I was. I love my work. I'm much more worried.

ES: As long as you still have time, which we do. I want to ask you a few questions about how you personally, in your private life faced fared during COVID. Would that be okay with you?

RR: Sure. Sure. Well, you can tell I'm getting old and sentimental. Go ahead, Grace. Um,

GL:I would just go jump to number 21 For that,

00:50:00

ES: With everything that happened and so quickly, how are you feeling emotionally? How are the people around you coping?

RR: Um, so my wife and I think that we're No, that's right. We don't think we've had COVID. I go for a physical every year, we're both very healthy. And and my doctor said, Well, if you've been in college, and she's been teaching elementary education with kids, he both had it. He said, you've probably had it more than once. He said, But you probably had no symptoms. Right? So I've gotten, you know, my two COVID shots and my two COVID, boosters, shingles shots, pneumonia shots. What do you call it? The flu shot, right? I feels like a porcupine. And so I feel like we're we're attentive to our health and protected. But I don't worry about getting COVID I don't worry about it at all. I'm that's sort of just 00:51:00my general nature, I think, is that I really don't worry. I've had one person very close to me, who's died of COVID, a cousin of mine who was my age. He was an anti Vaxxer, though, lived in Arkansas and got COVID and he died, you know, just this horrible way with his blood just clotted up. And so, you know, I have been touched by it. And I'm aware of how serious it is for for a lot of families, a lot of people. All of my children have had COVID My two of my sons have had it at least twice, maybe three times. My daughter had her while she was pregnant, eight months pregnant. And her five year old got it. None of them have they've all been vaccinated. Right? I mean, the joy that I felt getting vaccinated that first April was incredible, right, that my wife and I, and it was just, it was such a feeling right that science was was going to work for this, you know. So I don't think that I've had been changed. I'm more thankful 00:52:00probably. I, my wife had an incident this spring, which she had a traumatic brain injury and was close to death, but recovered and has since recovered. And so I mean, I think my joy and thankfulness is in part based on that too. Right? You can't go through something like that and not feel like the rest of your life is just gonna be gravy and frosting on the cake is gone. And it's all good from here on out, you know, every day that I have with her now is you know. So between COVID and that, you know, it's been a it's been a rough spring for us. But now it just feels like life is so good. And tea teaching is so good. You know, being back on campus is so wonderful that I think you go through something like that, and it makes you more thankful for just every sunrise, you see, right. And every sunset, you can wave goodbye to.

ES: Do you have anything else you want to add?

00:53:00

RR: Did I have you in a class, Emelia? I know your name. I thought so. Were you wearing masks, though? I see. I couldn't quite recognize your face. I was gonna like cover the bottom of your face. I recognize your voice. And I recognize your name honors class. By chance. Yes.

Fall of 2020.

Well, 2020 Was it creativity? Or was it

ES: The microbiology

RR: was the first one for that. Yeah, that was the first semester we taught that. Yeah. So that was the masks the quiet one with masks. Yeah. Okay. Well, it's so wonderful to see you in person.

ES: Thank you. Wonderful to see you as well.

RR: Thank you. Thank you.

ES: Thank you for sharing your story with us. We appreciate your contribution to the campus COVID stories at UW Oshkosh.

RR: Right, thank you, Emelia. Thank you, Grace. Good to see well.