NATIONAL CHENGCHI UNIVERSITY — With delays due to COVID-19 concerns pushing us back one week, our first official day of the Spring 2020 semester at the National Chengchi University.
I’ve been around universities for nearly 20 years, and the energy and excitement of a new semester never dull. The weather always seems a bit nicer, and the town just a little more buzzing with action as tens of thousands dart from one corner of the area to the next.
In many ways, a return to campus is a return to normalcy: teaching schedules, office hours, research and writing time, and a peculiar paradox of the academic–an increase in tasks breeds an increase in productivity. At least, it’s always been that way for me.
(I write this now as I wrap up a few different Association of Internet Research (AoIR) proposals, and sit on a stack of Journal of Media Psychology manuscripts that anxious authors are probably wondering why I’m not editing those and blogging instead. ;p )
Heading out to the office, a quick stop at the mailbox portends a much more cautious start to the semester. A handbill from a local housing company that doesn’t really require deep understanding of Mandarin to understand — it’s a partly guide and partly reminder to protect the community against COVID-19, the large type translating roughly to “COMMUNITY DEFENSE.”
I stuff the handbill in my shoulder bag as an interesting artifact for community health campaigns, tighten my own face mask, and head to campus. Entering the Journalism Building, another very prominent request: face masks need to be worn in any indoor/enclosed spaces, such as faculty and staff offices. A few emails from campus remind facilities managers to sterilize any surfaces in all offices, and to limit access points to all buildings — the preference is for one main access point, with temperature screenings and face masks checks.
Settling down at my desk (my temperature is fine and my face mask is secure), I log into our learning management system — the one true consistency from institution to institution? Some form of Moodle of Canvas or Blackboard or [insert vile platform here]. Ours is Moodle, and I dig it. Yet, today reports an additional roadblock, as NCCU (following directives from the Ministry of Education) is requesting a bit more information from students and faculty. Contact information, recent trips, or recent contacts with others from other travel. We can debate Orwell later on, but there’s a palpable concern over COVID-19, and such ad-hoc social network data might be the best we can grab so quickly.
Also tossed into the mix? A disposable microphone cover, assigned to faculty personally so that they don’t share any more surfaces than they have to. Some of my peers are already purchasing their own microphones, as it’s perhaps a bit easier to keep yours sterile than risk leaving one in an open classroom. Sterile mic covers, along with emails with tips and tricks to keeping the classroom otherwise clean. I mentioned the emails already? That’s a bit intentional — by my count, ~10 emails in the last 24 hours with information and assurances that both (A) COVID-19 is under control but also (B) that we all have a responsibility to ensure a safe environment.
Leaving campus, a line of students are outside the pharmacies to secure paper face masks (I didn’t take photos here). More than a personal safety tool, they’re going to need these masks to access campus in the coming weeks, if not months. With so many students from so many places and self-reporting data that might or might not be accurate, there’s … there’s just a lot of uncertainty to manage. Access to basic preventative measures, at least for Spring 2020, will be a must: pens, pencils, notebooks, and face masks.
COVID-19 has even seeped into my claw machine games, and I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this one — equal parts amused, skeptical, and cognizant that it’s a reflection of the time.
In all of this? The campus scene is still alive. Students chatting, giggling, and getting ready for a new semester. I asked my class what they thought of it all, and you get a sense that they’re just read to start school — delays, emails, face masks, and a deluge of fear and panic roll off their backs.
Instead? We spend a few hours talking about media psychology. I have students from Taiwan, Germany, France, Kuwait, Philippines, and the US. They’re chatty and perhaps like me, there just ready for a return to normalcy.
This makes me happy. =)