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Teaching in the time of COVID-19

I have been teaching in college for over a decade, but I have not taught inside a classroom in the last seven months. Instead, I teach my classes in Zoom, but the experience hasn’t been the same.

There is value in the four walls of the classroom. It separates learners from the distractions of the outside world. You may argue that there will always be distractions anyway, but none more apparent than when you’re learning remotely. Not everyone will have the privilege of carving out a conducive learning environment at home.

Gadgets vary.

The quality of Internet connectivity varies.

Living situations vary.

As if a bad Internet connection or a noisy environment isn’t stressful enough, consider learning during a pandemic. Students today face added worries. They worry about their physical and mental health. They worry about their family’s health. Some of my students are caregivers to family members. They worry about their family’s finances. Some work in the family business. A few have taken up part-time work.

Many of my students have been cooped up indoors since the beginning of the quarantine. They have not seen their friends and have lost access to the spaces where they socialize with peers. Instead, they have to process all of their worries in the same space where they live, work, study, eat, play and relax.

Can you imagine yourself, as a college student, living at a time like this?

And then, there are challenges to teaching events marketing as a course during a pandemic. The events industry is experiencing massive disruptions after authorities ban public gatherings from curbing the coronavirus’s spread. The shifts in academia mirror the shifts in the events industry—both are going online.

Before joining the academe, I worked in the events industry. My experience and training have taught me to be resilient. Every events professional knows that the show must go on. Nothing, however, has prepared me for the drastic changes that the pandemic has brought.

Changing where I teach alters how I teach because teaching online reshapes where and how my students learn.

How does one teach events marketing during a pandemic?

How do I make my class relevant and meaningful?

How do I motivate my students, given their circumstances?

How do I keep the learning experience fun and engaging?

From the beginning, I focused on setting up an environment that was conducive to delivering fun, engaging, and meaningful experiences. In events, experience is everything. Experience is all about engaging people in a personal way—how you make people feel. Experiences last longer in memory, far longer than any information that is shared. People learn best from experience.

My teaching approach has always been project-based because my experience has taught me that students learn best by doing. Prior to the pandemic, I relied on my training and experience to teach students about the subject matter, particularly about solving common problems faced in events marketing. Today, I do not have the same privilege.

As most events are shifting online, I am learning how events can evolve and how practitioners can innovate to stay relevant, just like everyone else. In my online class, everyone is a learner. Everyone is faced with the same challenge: how do we create an environment that is conducive to delivering a fun, engaging, and meaningful experience?

The first thing I had to do was to condense the course coverage, focusing on the most relevant topics. Doing so required developing new course materials and short videos. I also reduced the number of student requirements and cut my lecture time down to 30 minutes per class.

I adjusted how I engaged with my students. In the first few weeks of the term, I purposefully checked in on them to ask how they were doing.

When teaching online, engagement and connection matter. It matters that I asked my students how they are doing. It matters that I keep my class fun and engaging—that I try my best to be very animated and to engage students in their interests.

It matters that I use my class as a venue for students to engage and connect with each other. I have learned that many of them feel isolated. Students have not seen their peers. It mattered to my students that they made friends in class.

Well-being matters. Mental health is a critical factor in learner performance. Zoom school is exhausting. Living in a pandemic is very stressful. It mattered to my students that I gave them a free cut that one time. I will never forget the grateful messages I received because of this unexpected brain break.

I lost my father to cancer a few weeks after the term started. The brain break was as important to them as it was to me. Teachers need breaks, too.

It matters that I give students opportunities to do meaningful work. I am proud to share with you what my students have accomplished. The following student-led projects initiated in my events marketing course cumulatively raised over P1 million worth of donations, in cash and in-kind, to help those who have been severely affected by this pandemic: One with Frontliners, Bridge for Dreams, Fit 2 Fight, Para sa Pumapasada, Manila’s Appetite, Bikes on Duty, Asia’s Aspirations, Helping Gloves, Impart for Hope, Care for a Cause and We Got the Power.

Despite the challenges, teaching during a pandemic taught me that many students are eager to learn, have the passion to perform, and have the intense desire to make a mark in this world. For that, I am honored and grateful to have met every one of them. Thank you.

In memoriam Virgilio Vergara, my father.

The author is an Associate Professor in the Marketing and Advertising Department and the Assistant Dean for External Affairs and Lasallian Mission at DLSU Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of De La Salle University, its faculty and its administrators.

Topics: Green Light , Teaching in the time of COVID-19
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