We wrote the introduction to the previous issue of Transformations (30.1) two months into the COVD-19 pandemic and just two days before George Floyd was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis. Since then, Black Lives Matter protests against police violence surged across the country and it seemed as if the United States might finally reckon with systemic racism, although subsequent events—the lack of indictments for the murder of Breonna Taylor and the actions of federal agents against protestors in Portland, Oregon, and across the country are just two examples—suggest that there is much work left to do.
We have weathered a presidential election that saw Trump defeated, though as of this writing, he has refused to concede and, thus, continues to destabilize our political institutions and democratic processes. We are nevertheless anticipating the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden along with Kamala Harris, the nation’s first Indian American, African American, biracial woman as vice-president in January 2021. The new First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, intends to continue teaching composition at North Virginia Community College and, as Biden said in his victory speech, “For America’s educators, this is a great day: You’re going to have one of your own in the White House.”
As the pandemic drags on, teachers, administrators, students, and parents across all sectors of education continue to grapple with how to keep teaching and learning safely and effectively. Some of us are facing pressure to teach face to face, some of us are struggling to balance our jobs with home-schooling and caretaking, some of us are trying to figure out how to manage our household budgets, our institutional funds, or our state appropriations. We are worried about layoffs and furloughs. We are concerned about how our students are doing or how best to adapt to new instructional technologies. The future is uncertain for everyone, yet we continue to teach and learn, and we keep striving toward a pedagogy that centers inclusivity and social justice.
It is perhaps not surprising then, that several of our authors in this issue address pedagogical challenges that intersect with these unprecedented [End Page 107] times. Some authors focus on how to integrate technology in new ways. For example, in “Creating Virtual Exchanges: Promoting Intercultural Knowledge When Study Abroad is Not Possible,” Courtney Dorroll and Begona Caballero-Garcia provide insight into how to give students an international experience without leaving campus. Such experiences have been a vital way to connect students across the globe in the time of COVID-19. The article is presented as two case studies. The first involves a virtual exchange between US students in a “Culture of Spain” course and English for Business students at the University of Valencia. The second is between US students in a general education humanities course and Egyptian students. In both, the exchanges provided successful opportunities for not only cross-cultural understanding, but also collaboration. The active-learning assignments allowed for dialogues that helped, in the authors’ estimation, to break down preconceived notions and foster greater global citizenship.
Similarly, Michelle Rosen considers how to incorporate pedagogical spontaneity in her online course in “Letting Go of the Lesson Plan: Spontaneity and Flexibility in a Learner-Centered Approach to Maximize Learning in a Graduate School Setting.” Rosen and several of her graduate students—Jillian Cerullo, Giselle Martinez, Kerri-Kirk Mione, Amanda Note, and Nadia Vasquez—urge us to abandon the syllabus when unexpected, but exciting learning opportunities arise in the midst of a course. The course “Reading in the Secondary Schools” proceeded according to the syllabus until students presented their midterm projects. The high quality of the projects led to an even more ambitious undertaking than that laid out in the syllabus, preparing and engaging in an immersive learning experience for preservice teachers. The result was “The Scholar Express!” That this idea emerged organically from the students provided the enthusiasm and collaborative spirit required to pull it off. Even though the course departed from the syllabus, the students surpassed the intended endpoint, learning, in the process, so much more than originally planned.
Jean Ferguson Ruffin, meanwhile, reflects on...