How quarantine has complicated my expectations: an expos outline
One of the very first things I learned at Harvard was how to write an argumentative essay. My Expos preceptor had a handy outline that I have used for basically every essay I’ve written since learning it: first, create an expectation, then, highlight something which complicates it, and finally, ask a question which results from the clash. This will ensure that your argument is original and actually has a direction. This technique has been incredibly helpful to me in my classes. Who knew I was going to be thrown into a real life version of the “expectation/complication/question format” before my freshman year even finished? Over the past six weeks, self-isolating with my family, I have found myself with a lot of questions, which result from a lot of complications to my expectations. There’s the big one: I did NOT expect to be sent home mid-year thanks to a global pandemic. But within that complication, there are so many expectations that were completely ruined.
Let’s begin (with the formatting of an expos outline):
EXPECTATIONS FOR QUARANTINE (as established by my first day back):
-I would follow rigorous self-care goals (meditation, exercise, eating very healthy!).
-I would miss my friends, but connect with them over the phone.
-Having more time to relax would be nice after the extreme stress of the semester.
-I would create and follow a pretty strict schedule.
COMPLICATIONS (as established by the end of my first week back):
-I was NOT taking great care of myself, and spending so much time sitting at the computer ended up being pretty physically painful.
-Even though I was talking with my friends over the phone, I didn’t feel connected. I didn’t have a lot of things to talk about (bc quarantine life was pretty boring), and conversations felt pretty stilted, no matter how hard I tried.
-I had a SERIOUS lack of motivation in my classes.
-My conclusion? Online classes are the absolute worst, and I NEVER want to do them again.
-What will my quarantine look like?
-(and more importantly) How can I live in quarantine as a remote student and feel positive about it?
THESIS (as established by six whole weeks in quarantine):
Quarantine is going to be a roller coaster. There are going to be good days and bad days and good days and bad weeks. However, there are some things I can do to make myself have more good days.
-Go on long daily walks! It helps with back pain, incorporates some exercise, and gets me outside.
-Spend some time thinking of engaging questions to ask friends! My go-to has become “what are you reading/watching/listening to?” I also love to do the activity “Rose/Bud/Thorn” bc it gets people thinking about what they’re looking forward to.
-Set reasonable expectations! Over the past month, I think what I’ve learned most is that nothing is going to be perfect. Not only are my emotions not always going to be sunny and beautiful, neither are my classes, my homework, or my discussions with friends. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with asking friends if we can end a call early and being more patient with myself academically.
-Creativity helps! Whether that’s taking a break and doing a chalk craft with my little stepsister, baking bread, or working at the Bok Center, pausing and making something can really clear my mind. In classes, I started dedicating more of my time to the assignments with more creativity involved, whether that’s writing an essay on a topic of my choice or even writing my answers in a free-response test.
Ultimately, living this unfortunate expos essay over the past six weeks has taught me that a lot of things, including my emotions sometimes, are out of my control. My expectations, whether of college in general or of the pandemic more specifically, are almost always challenged, and sometimes the best things I can do is accept that, talk to a friend, and make something.
While we were still on campus, I tested a lighting tutorial for GENED 1049: East Asian Cinema. Marlon tasked me and 3 other LLUFS with the following assignment: recreate the lighting in this screenshot. And so we got started! I, like most of the students in the GenEd, had no experience with lighting. Everything from how to attach the lights to how to turn them on to how to aim them was something novel to learn. The workshop was incredibly physical, with us moving around constantly.
One person was the model at all times, and we did our best to switch so that everyone could also have the opportunity to do the tutorial. We had to work as a team to both arrange the lights and to dissect the image, discussing as people brand-new to lighting where we thought the light sources for the different shadows should be.
But how did this help the Learning Lab? Doing this tutorial gave me more than just a (very) basic understanding of how lighting works. It also prepared the Learning Lab to offer a tutorial to the GenEd students. By having equally inexperienced undergraduates give it a try, Marlon was able to alter the workshop to better fit the time/number of students in the class. They also were able to test out alternatives with different levels of studio light. Having the four of us mess around with the lights let us learn and served as a model for the way that other students like us might learn. It was also fun -- it felt creative and collaborative, low-stakes but motivating. We were able to joke with each other -- serving as yet another model of a way in which learning does not have to be stressful or boring. Instead, modeling this workshop was just another example of the ways in which the Learning Lab makes learning fun and engaging :)
I was really excited to start working at the Bok Center, but one thing terrified me. Code. It has always looked scary and felt like a mountain I would fail at (or at least didn’t want to try) climbing. Instead, I prefer to use premade platforms that I can figure out with a bit of googling and a few YouTube videos.
Now, this is not a reflection about how I learned to code because I did not.
BUT I have used a little bit of Markdown, which certainly sounded like code to me when Jordan first described it. And which certainly looked like code to me (a very code ignorant person) when I first saw it. And it didn’t kill me! It actually felt incredibly satisfying to type my #s and !s and have links magically turn into images and text get larger and smaller once I started to get the hang of it. It felt a little bit like magic.
This might sound like an exaggeration, but the idea of having to use anything even vaguely related to code gave me a stomach ache before this, but now I’m so much more open to it. I think what was key for me was having an incredibly simple and low-stakes exercise to start off with (uploading an adorable animal). Even when I messed up and almost wrote over someone else’s work, nothing bad happened -- James Bean just showed me what happened and everything was okay. The Learning Lab is such a supportive environment, and I think that’s what let me start to learn this oh-so SCARY skill. Now, I’d really like to learn more about what I can do with Markdown, and who knows? Maybe one day I’ll give real code a try!
No one could have guessed how 2020 was going to turn out, and as an international Senior at the college, it’s been a little challenging to say the least. I remember the exact moment when we all got the news that we would have to leave campus within a few days; my heart sunk. Everyone I spoke to felt so angry and upset, not realising the emotion that they were experiencing was grief. Looking back, despite so many students being frustrated at the university for its decision, there was clearly no other way – I don’t think anyone who originally disagreed with the decision can still feel the same way. The health of us and our loved ones is of paramount importance, and everyone is feeling the effects - not just students. Which brings me to my next emotion: guilt. Although still grieving, I now feel guilty for having found the last few weeks extremely challenging. I feel guilty for not attending a single Zoom class because I have so many responsibilities back home, I feel guilty for not keeping in touch with my friends in the U.S., and I feel guilty for not being able to work at the Learning Lab as much. I feel guilty for struggling when I know everyone else is struggling, too.
That all being said, I’ve started to experience a newfound appreciation for life and its components. Call it a “stopping to smell the roses” kind of thing or whatever you like, but I’m enjoying this feeling and I want it to stay. When I see that my loved ones are happy and healthy, or when I go for a walk and hear nothing but nature, I feel as though the challenges that 2020 has brought so far have allowed me to truly appreciate what we have around us and to not take it for granted. Although I painfully miss seeing my friends, it will make it all the more sweet when I’m allowed to see them for the first time in months. And although I painfully miss McDonald’s, it’ll make that first bite of a Big Mac all the more tasty when they eventually decide that it’s safe to reopen. I’m starting to realise that this is what these last couple of months have been about for me.
As for learning, I’ve taken a few leaves out of the Learning Lab’s book. With regards to my academic work, my classes have taken a bit of a back seat. I think that I ended up playing myself with Senior Spring; the classes I originally chose were to give me as relaxed a schedule as possible (primarily so I could spend more time in the Learning Lab each week). These schedules did not translate into remote learning, and so I was left with three of my four classes not being relevant for me and not having as nice schedules as they did before. For these three classes, I did what was required to pass, but not too much more. For my final class, however, I really enjoyed the topics and found them to be extremely relevant for me. I’d like to say I put in enough effort to do really well in the class, regardless of the changes to the grading policy. Therefore, due to only having one class that I found relevant and interesting enough to work more thoroughly for, I found myself wanting to learn but not having the right modes of output (classes) to do so. Enter the Learning Lab Thinking ModeTM. I’ve used this extra time to learn more technical skills, including those on the Adobe Creative Suite. I’m most excited about using time this summer to enhance my current coding skills; I can only imagine how helpful they’ll be in the near future.
The remote Learning Lab has been one of the few things that has kept me grounded, sane, and connected to both Harvard and my friends. Although circumstances at home have meant that I’ve not been able to work with the LL much over the last few weeks, I still found myself checking through our Slack channels almost every day in order to keep up with what everyone has been up to. Not only this, but it has been a way of keeping in touch with others and ensuring that they are doing okay. As someone who has struggled to stay engaged by their courses since moving away from campus, the LL has been the only part of Harvard that I’ve felt I can truly rely on – it’s the primary thing which has kept me connected to the university as a whole. Each week it has been heartwarming to hear from my peers and learn how they are coping with the transition. Having these relationships have helped me to understand that I’m not alone in my struggles, and that even though I’m 3000 miles away, I have others that I can count on.
The virtual Learning Lab has helped me gain a deeper understanding of what it is “to learn,” and what I truly want to be learning. I think that this is something that a lot of us need reminding about, but rarely have the chance to reflect upon. Taking part in the LL’s Zoom meetings with those I miss from campus has often been the highlight of my week. So many times, the LL has helped me learn how to learn, and I have finally been able to put all of this into real action. Whether this be learning how to use the Adobe Creative Suite or learning how to code, the LL has set me up for success in a “remote world.” I’m deeply saddened by the knowledge that my time at the Learning Lab is coming to an end, but I know from the relationships I’ve made that it certainly won’t be the last. The Learning Lab has taught me what it means to be passionate about both the things that I love and wish to learn, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. I fully intend to keep touch with those I’ve met through the LL; the virtual system has shown me that this is absolutely possible, and is something I’m excited for in the future.
I fully intend to keep touch with those I’ve met through the LL; the virtual system has shown me that this is absolutely possible, and is something I’m excited for in the future.
These last few weeks have truly been an experience like no other. The primary way in which I have been able to manage this transition is by creating a routine for myself that allows me to be goal-oriented. While I have more limited access to extracurriculars and external activities, I still keep my calendar blocked off and I try to follow it as closely as possible.
I used Spring break mostly as an opportunity to cope with the shock of having to move back home. However, during this time I also began testing different routines for myself and talked extensively with my friends as to how we could stay in touch moving forward.
Academics certainly suffered during this period. As a student, Zoom proved to be a frustrating barrier that never allowed me to fully feel present in my classes because having to stare at my computer for extended periods of time leads to fatigue really quickly. Sections were also initially awkward because I did not know my classmates well and could not make small talk. However, over the last few weeks, I have found it a bit easier to converse, even if it’s only for a few seconds. In terms of complete schoolwork, I have done my best to complete all my assignments, but the desire to make them the best they can possibly be has decreased – this may also be a product of the change in grading policy.
Socially, I have mostly relied on video communication to stay connected with my friends. Early on, my friends and I decided to host bi-weekly (Mon/Fri) Zoom workouts for our friends and peers. We have consistently had around 10 other people join us and the workouts have proven to be a highlight of my week. Similarly, the Bok Center has also been a highlight given that I am able to consistently do productive and meaningful work. The task of having to compile and create resources for others is a fun, motivating challenge.
My work at the LL has been critical in keeping me connected to both school and my peers. By being able to work on creating resources I have been able to supplement my existing knowledge on tools with new material, all while teaching other people how to use those resources. During this time, when it can be difficult to find the same level of motivation you had as when you were at school, working on these projects has kept me focused and driven on being a student and a teacher. A lot of this is due to the help requests that have come in which have been an opportunity for me to think creatively how I can best create a web page that explains the material clearly and efficiently.
Aside from a concrete development of skills, virtually working at the LL has kept me connected to the community. Within the LL I have found continuous mentorship and space where I can openly talk about what my experience has been like - both the positives and negatives. Again, in a time when so many are far apart and may not have people immediately around that offer that comfort, having distanceLab drop-ins and access to all of the LL staff is incredibly beneficial. The prompts that we have done throughout the last few weeks, including the timeline.js and reflections, have also allowed me to reflect and process my experiences, describe strategies to improve my productivity and offer tangible feedback on how virtual learning can be improved. Therefore, my virtual work at the LL has fit perfectly with my new experience as an online student.
Since starting last fall, I have had numerous opportunities to test class material and attend workshops. For an anthropology class assignment, several of my peers and I randomly selected “characters” to play at a museum and then had to act out our respective roles within the LL space. It was a fun, creative exercise, but I also remember our thorough debrief afterward in which we reflected and discussed how the assignment could be modified and taken to a new level for the classroom iteration. The workshops were also incredibly rewarding. I remember that for one of them we had the opportunity to create our own “action” short films using FCPX. All the clips had been loaded onto each computer and we got to decide which ones we wanted to incorporate and how we wanted to arrange them. In the process, we learned about various editing techniques and the types of narrative arcs you may want your videos to take.
I do not think I can remember everything that the LL has taught me. However, some of the biggest things include: the basics of using InDesign to create layouts (LL Glossary), using terminal to convert YouTube videos to MP4s and how to pull stills from videos, editing in FCPX and thinking about the narrative that even a short clip has, editing images in Lightroom to achieve the “Bok Center” look, learning some of the basic animations you can do in After Effects, learning what markdown is and how Github can be used for collaborative purposes, and finally, how you can do picture tracing in Illustrator.
Title: Vox Unbox: How to Make An Earth Zoom Effect Using Adobe Apps (Linked Here)
Description: This page is a walkthrough that shows the viewer how to create an Earth zoom out/in effect using Adobe After Effects and Premiere.
Rationale: This walkthrough is part of a larger effort to create asynchronous resources that can teach someone how to develop new skills using the tools available to them. In this case, while the source material is a journalistic bod of work, the effect itself allows a viewer to orient themselves geographically. Therefore, this effect can have a wide range of application and the style of the video does not have to be journalistic, but can be more academic or creative if desired.
I turned in my last final about an hour ago and could not believe I finished this eternal semester. About a year ago, on my 18th birthday, I realized my college life was getting really hectic and I wasn’t taking enough time to think about what I was doing all the time so I decided to write down everything I do every day. Not really a diary, more of a list of random events that I would understand when I read it back. Through this experience, I really surprised myself with how easy it is to forget a day once it’s in your rearview mirror. When we were on campus, even if it felt like I did the same thing every day (class, food, etc.), looking back I had all these little things jotted down like “caught up with ___ and decided to try __” or “had heart to heart with roommates”.
I didn’t think those things were making my days special until we moved to remote learning and for once I’ve really struggled not making what I write down everyday just a repetition of the last. I found myself relying on the Learning Lab to fill my life with the new creative things I was missing. The random moments were replaced with deliberate acts of trying out a new Adobe app or reading articles about storytelling in the distance lab slack channel.
The learning lab has always been such an inspiring space for me, but during this time it became an even bigger part of my life (even without the physical space). It’s reminded me to be deliberate with my time and make things that make me happy but also help people, whether it’s for the learning lab as a whole, other LLUFs, or a class.
Looking back on all of the activities I’ve had a chance to try at the LL this year, a few stand out among them. The first definitely being watching all of the math review videos and written documents for the Gened1080 toolkit. This was my first major project as a LLUF and I loved the feeling of getting to see all of my notes and edits, from an animation made in procreate to analogies I had thought of to explain differential equations, go into making a cohesive finished product. More recently, I have participated in Snow’s animation workshop over zoom and talked about a “synchronous asynchronous” teaching kind of technique for remote learning and completed and gave feedback on the Indesign timeline tutorial.
How to use all of these amazing tools to do all these fun things:
-Lightroom (editing portraits)
-Photoshop (editing portraits)
-Garageband (making podcasts)
-Indesign (infographic type layouts)
-Aftereffects (Infographic animations)
-ARkit (augmented reality to give info about pics around the LL)
-Ableton (to make music and for Alphapresentation)
-FCPX (basic edits to make reels)
-Trusses (Learned how to assemble and more around trusses in studioLab)
As a pod, Sam, Brett and I made a program for the Fall showcase that used the Ableton to set off light cues, show certain videos, play songs and change slides to be used in a presentation. We also made videos of nests of tools and descriptions of spaces in the learning lab that can be used in future workshops. Using Max MSP and Jitter, we learned how to make programs from scratch to communicate with the Ableton. This is the project I’m most proud of out of all of the ones I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of at the learning lab because it took a lot of work and thinking outside of the box, but really paid off. With some debugging, I think this could give us a whole new way to host workshops, using every element of the space to teach.
When I created a timeline mapping out my first day back to classes and work, I didn’t realize that that would be what the next few months would look like. Taking notes as I attend zoom classes or watch lecture recordings, chatting with my family over meals, lacing up my sneakers to go for a run, logging into a zoom distanceLab check in, and facetiming friends covers most of the first day.
Now, I continue to do those things, but I’ve also been babysitting my 9 month old niece 2-3 times a week so my brother and sister-in-law can have a few hours to actually focus on their work. This has been a silver lining for me because I was pretty sad I hadn’t gotten to spend much time with her before leaving for college.
Throughout the first week, I felt like I was morphing back into my high school self because I had returned to the same workspace. We didn’t get much done in classes because people still weren’t really focused on school with everything going on. Classes that week mostly consisted of getting everyone acclimated to what the courses would look like going forward. I was honestly feeling pretty good about things, though. I had started doing things I always wanted to do more of but didn’t have the time for, like experimenting with new cooking recipes, journaling, and trying to learn HTML.
By the first month in, the workload seemed like it picked up, and I found myself spending many hours on schoolwork and less time on doing those fun things I had been experimenting with. My work-life balance was all over the place. I probably spend more time on schoolwork at home than when we were on campus because I felt like I always had to be doing something productive since my workspace was always right there, but also because it was so difficult to focus.
Part of the difficulty was just having to sit in the same position for hours on end, hunched over my laptop, but part of it came from the distractions from my family too. I’ve definitely had to get used to working in a less-than-silent space. I also spent longer trying to figure concepts out on my own because I didn’t have friends right next to me to talk it over with.
Since then, I’ve been working on keeping myself productive, while also giving myself time to relax, so trying to get that work-life balance back on track. I’m happy to say I’ve gotten better at creating good habits for myself. I’ve kept to a daily exercise schedule to get myself moving, and I’m really proud of myself for sticking to it. Exercising has become my favorite part of the day. I’ve also started writing 3-5 things I’m grateful for every morning, and I’ve been doing that every day for the past two weeks. That has definitely made me look at things from a better perspective.
I’m so grateful that home is a good place for me, that my family is all safe and healthy, that I’ve been able to continue working at the LL, that I can still contact friends whenever I want, that I can use this time to improve myself, and for everyone working to make this transition smoother. The list goes on and on. Of course, there are days where my thoughts take me on an emotional roller coaster. I do miss hanging out with my friends, crying laughing in the dining hall, having conversations with new people, looking around in awe at the physical space of the LL, walking around Harvard Yard feeling amazed that I actually go here, and, again, the list goes on and on. Plus, it’s pretty frustrating how the future is so uncertain; we might have to get used to a new normal that’s just not the same, and that’s upsetting.
I try to stay positive when I can, but I do let myself have those moments to be sad or upset because I know burying and smothering emotions never goes well. It helps to know that everyone, nearly the whole world, is going through this as well, although everyone in their own way. It’s also been inspiring to see how people are spending the time; I’ve seen so many videos of people showing off their creativity. More people than ever are picking up their cameras, paintbrushes, pens, laptops, and more to make amazing creations. I’ve seen videos of people singing together over zoom, learning dances, and practicing new skills. It’s inspiring to see the resiliency of the human spirit; we’re all facing a challenge, but we’re finding ways to make the most of it and still connect with others and with ourselves.
My work at the LL has been an important aspect of this new undergrad experience. I’m now more involved with the LL, and it’s been something that I genuinely look forward to. It’s been extremely valuable to learn new skills that I might not have been exposed to otherwise and to then use that newfound knowledge to create resources to help others. It’s given me a greater appreciation for all the hard work that goes behind improving the learning process. Especially with this transition to remote learning, everyone at the LL has been determined to help make the process the best it can be, and it’s just really cool to be a part of that behind-the-scenes action. It also gives me hope that no matter what happens in the fall, we’ll find a way to make things work out and to make this new learning environment even more effective than it was this spring.
Although I only started in the spring semester, I still got the chance to test out course materials at the Learning Lab. I remember going through a few fun activities to demonstrate how and why evolution happens. One of the activities asked us to partner up and create and draw a creature that lived on the moon. We had to think about what it looked like and what traits it would have that allowed it to survive, and thrive, in that extraterrestrial environment. We then were faced with challenges that the creature would face, and it showed us how having different traits can drive natural selection. In the next activity, we went back and forth with our partner, designing two creatures that were predator and prey. Each turn, we added a trait that the other person would have to combat. It was super engaging and fun to work with the others in a creative, but also educational manner. Those activities drove home the main message, while also being enjoyable.
This semester, I was introduced to a ton of new tools and technology with the Learning Lab. I started learning how to position lights and cameras to recreate a shot from a movie. I learned how to use Adobe Apps including Photoshop, After Effects, and Illustrator. I also learned how to use Github and to write with Markdown, as well as some CSS. Although I’m certainly not an expert with these tools and technology, I feel comfortable using all of them, and I genuinely enjoyed challenging myself. I also learned more about my own learning style; I need to understand the why of what I’m doing and I enjoy hands-on activities that force me to find solutions to problems as I go.
Title: Unboxing Vox (Linked Here)
Description: For this project, we chose a small clip from a Vox YouTube video to recreate using Adobe Apps. I used Photoshop and After Effects to make a moving graph. Then I created a tutorial on how to do this yourself using a Spark page.
Rationale: The final product doesn’t look like something that would take very long to make, but because I had no previous experience with Adobe Apps, it took quite a while. I had to google everything, and it took a lot of trial and error. Although it was challenging, I’m now comfortable using Photoshop, After Effects, and Spark pages.
Distance lab, unfortunately, was born and developed in the shadow of COVID-19. The first day back was like a movie in which I was spectating from outside the screen. I didn’t really believe what was happening was real and the feeling persisted throughout the first week. However, the distance lab helped break through the fantastical monotony.
Catching up with coworkers not only gave me that much needed social interaction but reminded me that quarantine isn’t the time to sulk but to create and imagine. Helping other students traverse this new situation alleviated much of the loneliness that came from having left school and gave me more of a sense of purpose to help ease others in this transition.
My recent work at the lab has revolved around learning and teaching new digital skills that many students find themselves needing to acquire for online classes. For me, this has largely revolved around filming alone for projects and navigating adobe photo products. Beyond simply answering questions, the work has sparked an interest in expressing one’s self through social media and showcasing work on digital platforms. This has paired incredibly with distance lab’s GitHub lessons and website design. I am super excited to utilize these skills on various passion products over the summer (including tackling adobe spark and portfolio).
When I try and think up a specific workshop that I was moved by, I am always drawn back to my first essentials lab where I was introduced to the other LLUFs and the Learning Lab for the first time. Prior to this meeting, I was both excited and terrified by the the prospect of joining the lab because I had seen some of the amazing projects produced from its minds. It didn’t help that the portrayal of Ivy league education promotes the idea of competition and survival of the fittest. However, that first meeting reminded me that learning isn’t a competitive endeavor, but a collaborative one. The first meeting was a showcase of current projects at the lab, but the way in which it was presented was not “Look what I did!”, but “ Look what you can do too!” I think that immediately following that meeting was when I began to rethink what learning really was and the many ways I could go about it. I started seeing more things as inspiration and not a competition.
In addition to gaining various soft skills such as brainstorming and fine-tuning the learning process, I gained tactile skills in adobe photoshop and procreate. I think my skills as an artist still have a long way to go, but it’s been an eye-opening experience to learn about the animation process and breaking down motion and scenes into numerous parts and layers. I’ve been much more adventurous in my use of photoshop (though I have just scratched the surface). The biggest advances in my skills have come in color correction, selecting and masking, as well as layering. My personal photography interest tends to lean towards a street photography style which doesn’t lend itself to many editing techniques. So it’s been exciting to explore new photography forms in combination with photoshop.
These few weeks at home have truly flown. Some of that is the fact that days at home tend to blend together with their sameness, especially for the last few days of finals. In many ways, this routine has been good, kept me on my toes, and a lot of that energy I owe to having my role at Bok. Over this period, as the Bok center stands at the forefront of education innovation as Harvard reimagines its experience, I’ve continued to take away so much from the ways I get to contribute in the Bok community.
As I look back to the first few weeks of being a distance student, there are many themes that still ring true. Among them are my gratitude I feel for the privilege of good internet/supportive family/quiet desk area/health/etc., the renewing happiness I derive from keeping in touch with my “virtual community”, and the luck that I still have this job that drives me to keep working and gives me purpose.
Truly, I think having my job at Bok be one of my few extracurricular activities left standing got me excited. The LLUF community is already something I looked to for inspiration and a creative challenge, and with so many clubs/programs canceled due to the circumstances, I got to turn my attention to just managing remote learning and being a part of distance-lab. I felt very lucky to still have a job, especially as I watched students everywhere have so many of their valued groups and activities cancelled. In a void of nothing to do but stay home, stay safe, I threw myself into being a part of distance-lab, reinforcing to me the value of work to my identity. It gives me a purpose that excites me and contributes to alleviating the pressure of our current academic situation, and it continues to be the most innovative, fun, colorful place on campus for me. Since I’ve started working at Bok (it’s been a year now), I always hype this job up to anyone who asks me what I do in my free time.
I was surprised when I first started how seamlessly Bok fit into my academic life. My first semester, I was testing the waters of CS as a concentration with a Data Visualization class, and when I walked into work one day, I was just in time to participate in a workshop exploring a tool that let users explore information about the buildings and people in New York, complete with a fully interactive map that visualized the data with building-like towers that grew from the land area. I was starting to think about what my final project could look like, and this was just the exposure I needed to broaden my imagination and think about what would be a cool, innovative way to display information.
Other times, the workshops were nothing close to anything I’d ever done or even considered before, like when this spring, I sat in on one of Snow’s first animation workshops. I got to draw a series of images that, put-together, would create a walk-cycle, and I quickly remembered how much I used to love drawing and how much thinking about the proportions and positioning that created clean motion excited me. In all my time studying Economics, I was always too busy to ever really see myself as a truly creative person. But Bok encourages a broadening of perspective, and I slowly started to decide that, you know what, I’m kind of into this animation/drawing/art stuff, and another great thing about Bok is that it provides an environment to pursue those fringe interests seriously. In my case, they ultimately shaped my interests, pulling me all the way into CS and now have me very interested in design, something that I hadn’t spent time pursuing in YEARS.
During distance-lab, I got to develop further those skills using the Adobe Suite, completing a Adobe Illustrator/Animate tutorial on recreating an animated vocal range diagram and piano, complete with a gradient I painstakingly applied, seeking to understand the tools fully by being as precise as I possibly could. I also got introduced to InDesign by making a timeline of my day, alternatively used Illustrator to create a donut chart with figurines signifying different activities, and also CSS flex-boxes to simulate a Medium article layout.
This facet of the Bok Center is one of the things that I think makes it such a valuable part of Harvard: in a sea of classes where workload is high, class sizes are large, and time and bandwidth are often strained, at Bok things seem to move more slowly, thoughtfully, and offer students an opportunity to receive individual help and encouragement on projects and ideas that might otherwise be impossible to support. It adds the element of unconventional and challenges all of us to find ways to make cool things and thereby enhance our learning and the learning of whole classes of students that now have confidence to think of bolder ideas.
I hype Bok up because I think even if a student doesn’t work here, the hackathons, workshops, and general approach Bok takes to education should be more prevalent throughout Harvard, and I think that the role Bok is playing now in redesigning our education and providing support to Harvard in these unfamiliar times is very well-founded. Every time I go into work, I see just how much effort the Learning Lab staff puts into every single workshop, tutorial, and student interaction, and at least in my case, I can attest that being in the midst of all that filming and brainstorming and actualizing has certainly made me a better thinker and creator. So yeah fellow student (and others), you should 100% totally check them out.
Coming into this remote learning experience, I expected my academic experience to stay relatively the same. My classes were still at the same time and maintained the original format for the most part. Even though they were going relatively well in person, I quickly discovered that they didn’t work well for me at home. The 90 minute lectures felt exponentially longer while sitting alone in bed as opposed to engaging with the material and classmates in person. The problem sets felt less like an opportunity for learning and more like a chore. At school, I was almost always pushing to do the best I could because it made letting loose with my friends that much more enjoyable. With less to look forward to on the daily, I found myself questioning the purpose of my effort and letting go of some of the high standards I held myself to at school. My learning has suffered, but if I pushed myself to the same level of excellence I did at school, it would be detrimental to my mental health. While I understand the concept of finding new sources of joy, it has been incredibly difficult and rather unsuccessful as I usually brighten up when doing things with others.
However, there have been some positive aspects of this remote experience. Despite keeping up with much fewer people than I did in person, this environment has actually helped me create deeper connections with my friends. In person, most of my conversations revolved around updating each other on whatever was going on in our lives. With very little going on in our lives lately, our conversations now rely on deeper topics like moral/philosophical debates and how we’re really feeling (+why). These conversations have helped me understand my friends on a deeper level and I don’t think they would be as common if life were back to normal.
The virtual Learning Lab has fit well into my new world by giving me a sense of community, continuity, and something to be excited about during a time in which little else is sparking my interest. New prompts and challenges give me a sense of purpose and make me feel like what I am doing may have positive effects on other undergraduates. In addition, my work at the Learning lab has created opportunities for me to explore my creative side, something that I usually don’t do on my own and isn’t really asked for in class. In that sense, it is helping me become more well-rounded learner and individual. The Learning Lab also does a great job of pushing me to add finishing touches and make sure my work looks polished, which is something else I struggle to do on my own.
I only worked in the physical Learning Lab for about a month, which led to an interesting turn of events in which I have felt more involved in the LL community in this remote setting than in-person. I am very thankful that our work has been able to continue and that there is still an atmosphere of joy.
I think one of my favorite workshops this spring was during Animation Lab. There was a class in the Learning Lab so we went to the area upstairs to work. I loved the space because of the natural light and relaxed couch circle setting. Snow walked us through the intricacies of making a stop-motion video, and the medium made me feel like anything was possible and I was no longer limited by reality. I worked together with Kai to make our own video and we had such a good time bouncing ideas off each other, taking and retaking shots, and laughing. We both ended up satisfied with our final product of a large fan blowing me away into the air and I left the Learning Lab in much better mood than I entered. That day I realized just how special the Learning Lab and its mission is because of its ability to create such a joyful yet productive atmosphere.
-Walk cycle animation
-Editing photos in Adobe Lightroom
-Making gifs from a long video
-Creating graphics in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator
-Writing in Markdown
-Video making in Adobe After Effects
Title: Earth’s Magnetosphere
Description: This animation shows how the magnetosphere protects protects Earth from particles in solar wind.
Rationale: This is my recreation of a Vox video. The purpose of creating this was to learn how to use different Adobe Apps together. I chose to use a scientific video because I think animations can be particularly useful for explaining complex scientific ideas.
The first day back, I was still in shock. The first week back I was still in shock. Only now, that I’ve had almost two months to process what’s happened, have I even started to think more about what this transition has meant and will mean for the future of both learning and life. It’s actually hard to believe we’ve been in quarantine for seven weeks now. The time has simultaneously stretched into an infinity and flown past in a shock. The biggest challenge I faced was learning to make each day feel different somehow, and I relied on both my class schedule and my work schedule to do that. Now, lacking the scaffolding of classes to interrupt daily chunks of purposeless time, I know I’m going to struggle to put meaning into my actions and thoughts instead of just aimlessly watching YouTube videos all day, which I’ve recently learned can sometimes be a good thing. Two overarching, I hesitate to call them “goals” because I am trying to push myself to be less aggressively goal-driven right now, but two mantras that I have taken to heart are “Create with intentionality” and “Be kind to yourself”. So, some days I need the aimless Netflix binge or the wear pajamas all day approach. But on days when I want to push my energy into some project, what then? It’s hard to be internally motivated. And while I don’t necessarily think I had the best academic experience with online classes this semester, it at least forced some schedule into my life and helped me maintain which day was Tuesday. For me right now, it’s about creating routine without pushing myself too hard. The balance between rigidity and flexibility in my schedule has always been a fine line for me to walk, and now that I have so much surplus time for self-reflection, I am trying to improve that balance.
When I say I ache to be on Harvard’s campus, I mean that with every fiber of my being. And I would be lying if I said I don’t desperately hope that some miracle allows us back on campus for the fall. Right now, it is extremely challenging to see how this pandemic can bring anything possible to the learning experience when it continually feels like loss after loss. You only get four years at college, four years at Harvard of all places, and to think that I’m currently missing out on that time is heartbreaking. I wish Professors and Administrators could help us to see that they are at least trying to understand how devastating this entire situation is, rather than continuing furiously with “business as normal” and seemingly ignoring all the complaints, protests, and concerns of the undergraduates. I understand they must maintain some air of “we know what we’re doing”, but in order to process the grief and loss that all of us are feeling, it cannot go unacknowledged. We need to sit with it, recognize it, and not just push forth as if this was the plan all along, which is what the administration seems to be doing. I have to be honest, I am rather disappointed with the way this whole situation has been handled. I think the college is failing to recognize just how difficult this transition has been. I haven’t really heard anyone say “We hear you. We know. This is absolutely awful. It’s garbage, and we’re proud of you for at least attempting to continue your studies in what will probably be one of the most traumatic events of your life.” Acknowledgement of the hard work we as students have done would mean a lot, and it would help me feel like we’re all on the same side. I think what’s crucial going forward in the relationships with professors is that students need to feel that professors and TFs are their allies. That is the only way effective learning can continue - if the students feel heard, appreciated, and supported, rather than ignored. And I’m sure that goes both ways. Exemplary professors should be commended for their successes right now especially.
I was reading the Harvard Confessions Facebook page this morning, an attachment to the disbanded, disgruntled student community, and one quote stuck out to me. The switch to remote learning will force Harvard professors to actually think about pedagogy. (I just scrolled through the page to find the exact quote: “I guess now Harvard profs are gonna have to think about pedagogy for the first time in...their lives”). This struck me as interesting. I would also like to point at the email from Dean Claybaugh sent in the #general Slack channel where she emphasizes that a remote fall will have the college “Working with every department to review course offerings”. If this is genuinely true and they intend to do this, I think it is IMPERATIVE that they take STUDENT feedback on what would be most effective for their remote academic experience. It also worries me to see that there is a chance some courses cannot be offered because they are not conducive to being taught remotely. That means for myself and other seniors, we will entirely miss that chance of taking those courses. I think the most important thing here in revamping courses is to focus on making each course the absolute best it can be, though, and if that means tightening up a smaller group of classes in each department for the online format, so be it. While lectures are theoretically the easiest to transition to online learning, they also immediately become the least engaging. I think online learning would benefit from smaller course sizes to keep students engaged and give a personalized feel to each class. Because learning behind a screen is already so anonymous and depersonalized, it could benefit to have smaller, more intimate learning settings going forward so students can feel more included, appreciated, and important in the learning space rather than just zoning out in a 100 person Zoom lecture. Because, let’s be real, the Zoom lecture format is even more conducive to skipping lecture classes (though it’s arguably much easier to attend a lecture online, not having the classroom experience begin surrounded by peers and listening in person just makes the class way less exciting).
I actually can’t remember if this was in the fall or if this was last Spring (I think it might’ve been the Spring) but I have seriously been thinking about it ever since. I attended an Engaged Ethics Module workshop about driverless cars and variations on the Trolley Problem when it comes to the ethics of programming these cars, and it actually sparked such a curiosity for me in the ethics of driverless cars that I just coded a whole website in HTML (would love to know how to link that or share that? Maybe I’ll do a screen recording since I think it only exists locally?) for my final project about Ethical AI and discussed a lot of the questions we talked about in the workshop! Honestly, one of my favorite parts about the LL is testing assignments for Profs, because now after three years of doing it, I feel that I’ve improved so much in the ways I’m able to give feedback compared to when I was just a timid little freshman.
I definitely picked up some new tricks in Adobe Suite (illustrator, though that tends to crash my computer sometimes, Photoshop, Adobe Spark). Also, CSS and Markdown!!
What I’m most proud of that I created this semester is the Storytelling Sparkpage (Linked Here)
The Art of Digital Storytelling It’s a curation of resources for learning to tell stories more effectively, with special emphasis on digital media. I had all of these amazing resources that LLUFs collaborated to find, and I was able to screen and sort these resources into a manageable and extremely thorough Spark Page.
During the first week back I was afraid. Afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my classes, afraid that I would miss out on the last few weeks of college, afraid that my professors would not understand my situation. It turns out that I was right to be afraid. I ended up dropping a class and asking for countless extensions in my remaining courses, all because of network issues.
It takes a second for me to process that we have been away from campus for nearly two months. It’s even stranger to realize the semester is coming to a close, marking the completion of three years at Harvard. Like... that’s… (robot voice) = does/n0t/cOmpUt3. Because next year will be my senior year, I plan to take time off in the fall if the semester is to occur remotely. I don’t want to conduct my college send-off swan-song through the phone. Being a theatre major, I feel that in-person interpersonal interactions are crucial to the development of a person’s worldview and a unique, valuable knowledge base all their own. My professional studies as an artist and communicator have been greatly impacted by the big digital shift, and the shape of my future seems suddenly impossible to make out, even compared to how nebulous it already appeared to be. The biggest distraction from my academics since mid-April has definitely been my search for jobs. I’m anticipating needing two, three, four plus revenue streams in order to achieve full fiscal responsibility (covering daily expenses + saving for the future) this summer, when I will be living in Boston with my boyfriend. He’s been living alone on campus in a very small dorm, without even a common room, since evacuation in March. It is a big financial commitment that I am footing entirely by myself, but one i believe to be wholly worthwhile; I’m endlessly grateful to my parents for allowing me to move forward with this, which I know has been a very difficult decision for them.
I already feel sad about leaving home, but at home I am sad not being in Massachusetts. I feel like I am being exposed a year early to the stresses of entering the job market with an “unemployable” degree. In some ways, this is probably a good thing, but on top of everything, it’s a lot, sometimes too much. So much of the time I want to be spending with my family has instead been devoted to logistical headaches and promising dead-ends. I miss being able to go and do things with my body and I miss the sense of excitement that I’ve always possessed about forging my own path forward. All this being said, I’m so grateful all my loved ones are healthy and able to support one another. At the end of the day, I think wallowing only makes things worse, and there is still a lot of good in my life to catalogue. I have a warm bed in which to while away the day and a treasure trove of sweatpants. I have a creative, curious spirit and internet-access to feed it. Most of all, I have a personal, national, and global community upon which to lean. Everyone is facing new struggles at the moment, and many are being so brave in broadcasting their vulnerabilities. Looking back at the one-day, one-week, one-month marks, some things have gotten easier, some harder, but I think the spirit of solidarity among friends and strangers has strengthened, and that moves me, giving me the courage to keep going, even when I want to curl up into a little ball (okay, maybe after I very briefly curl up into a ball).
Each shift at the Learning Lab gives me the chance to put my stressors aside for a few hours without feeling guilty for doing so. I feel like the work we do at the Learning Lab has never been more relevant, and the spirit with which the Learning Lab conducts operations--one of compassion, encouragement, and excitement--never more vital. With every new LLUF task, I feel more and more competent navigating the new world of digital media and better understand how it all hangs together. My work at the Learning Lab has had a direct impact on the assignments I’ve turned in for my acting class, which were manually recorded, processed and sent in (not performed live over Zoom). I was careful to make use of the lighting, composition, and editing techniques I’ve developed doing various photography and video editing challenges at the Learning Lab. My cinematography (or “directing”) was always commented on during class! :-) I think the media skills developed at the Learning Lab would have even more relevance were teachers encouraged to utilize all the tools at their and their students’ disposals to enhance their curriculum. It would be so easy to annotate for English classes with InDesign, or compile reflections in a bound digital journal using Illustrator. Doing so would also allow students to provide quality classwork as professional-looking samples when applying for jobs or fellowships, designing their website or portfolio, or just sharing with family and friends.
Christina’s Adobe vector graphics tutorial! I loved this workshop (which I attended over zoom) because it enabled me to make something which I would have had absolutely no clue how to approach otherwise and that is SO useful in SO many different contexts. I particularly liked the way the graphic integrated data, art, and storytelling (with the little blurbs). I think it demonstrates how many disciplines and skills graphic design draws on, and why it is valuable for any person to know how to make simple, yet unbelievably sleek vectorworks, which can easily be tweaked to suit a variety of needs. I think having a live/recorded instruction paired with a written document is particularly effective. Though I lost my way a couple times during the live tutorial, I was easily able to course correct using the write-up, and the bonus tips from the Zoom session made for a more polished product with a little extra original flair.
Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Markdown, Github, Adobe Spark, and of course ZOOM this year with distance lab, all in all a whole bunch of new skills and tools, made even more impressive considering it was less than a two month period!! (I wasn’t able to get to the learning lab much while on campus because I have a bad tendency to overwhelm myself with commitments.) Honestly, being able to work so much remotely has recemented for me how important it is to be a regular, routinely-present member of the LL community in order to get the most out of the environment and contribute to all the wonderful goings-on that are happening. Because the Learning Lab is so fast-paced and multi-operational, it can sometimes feel like blink and you miss it. I think the variety of activity that happens at the Learning Lab is an a m a z i n g ! thing, but it’s on the individual to hold themselves accountable for being a integrated part of the community. Now that I think about it, using the distance diary to orient everyone when we switched to remote work really did an amazing job of anchoring things! I think even people who popped in and out every once in a while had a general sense of what was going on and always where to refer for the deal-of-the-day. I think the most important and maybe most overlooked skill that you learn at the Bok Center is how to communicate. LLUFs are trusted with a lot of autonomy and being able to communicate how they are putting their freedom to good use is a constantly-sharpened effort. It would be cool to do a guide on the pros and cons of different communication platforms and styles… hmm….
This collage for my free media slide way back in March, reflecting on the first week back in school since the beginning of quarantine. The reason I loved this so much is that I got a chance to catalog all the good things that were still present in my life, and organize them in such a fashion that so many disparate parts came to have a sense of cohesion. I think collaging could be so applicable to many courses in the humanities or social sciences, which study the ways different elements interact, whether thematically, practically, aesthetically, affectively, societally, etc. Because it took a long time to get everything looking just right, there’s a kind of meditative quality about the creation process, inspiring you to think deeply about the stimuli before you, something that happens less easily when rushed.
Looking back on my first day back and one month in blog posts, I can say that remote learning has transformed me. It has encouraged me to build my virtual skills, to make use of valuable resources like the Adobe Creative Suite, to adapt flexible ways of learning and studying, to put more effort into my social life and relationships, and to think more introspectively through reflection given the significant amount of time I had with myself. Though my professors faced issues with participation and meeting times due to time zone differences, there were many good things to come out of remote learning. For instance, I had to be more deliberate and purposeful in my time management and maintaining relationships with friends and faculty alike, which involved scheduling time for socializing in addition to mental and physical health breaks. Being isolated in quarantine has also exacerbated this need for downtime and rest away from screens and more time for reflection and deep thought, and this should carry into our lives on campus. Moreover, remote learning has inspired me to take on new hobbies, explore new skills/platforms/apps, and be creative in how I spend my time. From setting non-academic goals to keep me motivated to making a greater effort to bond with faculty or staff (as 1:1 mentoring is key to helping us take steps forward after spending time reflecting), remote learning has engaged me in more than just the classroom. It emphasizes education in non-traditional settings and situations. It demonstrates how growth occurs in multiple dimensions, particularly in what is most missed in this period of isolation: physical and social interaction. Nonetheless, there are many challenges that remain unresolved regarding remote learning and even issues in its impact on career and extracurricular opportunities that are critical to our college experience.
My work at the Learning Lab has revitalized my undergraduate experience given the current situation. I believe that our commitment to improving education through innovation and creativity is not only necessary now, but incredibly important in the long-run. It has introduced me to a world of virtual resources and skills that could transform my college education and experience for the better, such as the use of Markdown and Github and our emphasis on making tutorials to teach each other.
I have learned so much at the Learning Lab! My first memories are of editing footage on Final Cut Pro and standing in front of a professional camera and learning how to use it to manipulate the scene. But my favorite memory has been creating an “Beginner’s Guide to HTML, CSS, JS, and Markdown” tutorial with a LLGF, David. I have always wanted to learn how to code and really understand the relationship between the various languages and the process of creating a web page. I would have never imagined that after just a few 1-hour lessons, I would be able to write very basic code in HTML and produce a tutorial teaching others the wonders I had learned!
Title: The Ecosystem: A Beginner’s Guide to HTML, CSS, JS & Markdown
Description: An introduction to HTML, CSS, JS, and Markdown, including in-depth definitions of the languages and their functionality and also 3 follow-along code examples. More emphasis on the relationship between the 4 languages.
Rationale: Coding is the new “typewriter”! Everyone has got to learn how to use it and use it well, as technology, particularly web-based technology, has become extremely important in our daily lives, and code is the secret to understanding how everything works -- and the key to being able to produce web pages and similar platforms/apps of your own! Students can take this vital skill and use it in a myriad of ways in the classroom. This guide is special because it is written from the point of view of a beginner (me!), using familiar and simple language and approaching the subject from a perspective that is most comprehensible. It is truly an introduction to the vast terrain of the World Wide Web. (Linked Here)
We adapt quickly to change--finding new ways to complete our daily tasks, new ways to stay entertained, new ways to continue learning. Although working and living in quarantine is unideal, we are constantly adjusting our lifestyles to continue living the best lives we can.
My first week back was spent cooped up in my room, quarantined away from the rest of my family. I lost the typical structure of college life--a set schedule of classes each day, extracurriculars and meetings to attend, meals with friends and housemates. Thus, most of my time was structured around calls with friends, whether for work or for fun--trying to make the most of time that would have normally been spent with them in person.
One technique my friends and I adopted (and still use) is Video Chat Pomodoro. In order to maximize productivity and keep each other accountable for work, we video call through Zoom, Facetime, or Houseparty, then set timers for work and breaks. While working, we all mute our microphones so as not to be tempted to distract each other. Then, during short breaks, we can continue chatting and staying connected.
A couple weeks into quarantine, we also started working out together through video chat as well. We stream the same workout videos (working our way through Chloe Ting’s 35 Day Summer Shred Challenge) together, motivating each other and chatting during breaks.
Such calls with my friends have been the backbone of my schedule during quarantine, especially since most of my classes have transitioned to an asynchronous format in order to accommodate students from around the world. Somewhat surprisingly, having a set time for socialization has also been beneficial towards structuring my days. After dinner, I set aside the rest of my time for socialization. This motivates me to remain productive throughout the afternoon and plan out my work accordingly, rather than procrastinating until the last minute. As a typical procrastinator, I’m incredibly glad to have found this healthy work-life balance.
Working as a LLUF has also added more structure to my schedule, as well as helped me explore new online tools to help me work remotely. Each tool that I test out and learn to use is another to potentially adapt to my daily use or to explore as a hobby. I also love learning about other LLUFs’ experiences --everyone has such different perspectives and ideas to take inspiration from.
As we now approach two months into quarantine, life has settled into a predictable rhythm. Wake up. Eat. Work. Eat. Work. Exercise. Eat. Socialize. Sleep. I’ve been trying to find more time for personal hobbies as well. Spending an hour or so each day working on a different hobby adds more variation to my schedule, gets me off of the computer screen, and helps me feel more fulfilled with life in quarantine.
Although I constantly yearn to be back on campus with my friends and community, I believe we’ve been able adjust well, making the most of quarantine. I’m excited to continue exploring new ways to work online and spend more time working on myself. There are so many things to learn and do with all the time we have now--all it takes is taking the initiative to do so.
I really enjoyed testing out the Vector Graphics Tutorial! Adobe Illustrator is such a useful tool that is often overshadowed by Photoshop. Although I’ve worked a bit with vector graphics in the past, I hadn’t really touched Illustrator yet. This opportunity helped me rediscover my interest in creating vector graphics, and let me learn more about a new tool! I nearly forgot how much I enjoyed creating simple, aesthetic icons until I looked up and realized that I’d already spent hours perfecting my sample graphic. I’m now using the skills I’ve learned through this tutorial to create graphics for my own projects. I hope others may also discover more about themselves through the simple calm of manipulating geometries and find new applications for vector graphics.
Traditional animation: ProCreate, claymation
2D animation: Adobe After Effects
3D animation: Blender
I learned the basics of 3D modelling through BlenderGuru’s infamous donut tutorial. Blender is an incredibly powerful (and free!) tool for 3D modelling and animation. One of the most valuable skills I learned throughout this tutorial is paying close attention to the small details and imperfections of our world. I had the opportunity to look incredibly closely at donuts--the changes in coloring and shape due to uneven heating, the different-sized bumps in texturing, the different shapes and sizes of sprinkles. I will continue looking appreciating the perfect imperfections of nature.
My first week back to classes after being sent home was quite hectic. I spent so much time trying to keep up with class, homework, and extracurriculars while at the same time managing family responsibilities that I didn’t have to worry about back on campus that I would get burnt out quite quickly. I was trying so hard to simply superimpose my Harvard schedule to my new life back at home that I forgot how different the situation really was. Online learning demanded a complete restructuring of my routine, but in the spirit of wanting things to stay as close to campus life as possible, I neglected that need. Instead, I contorted my time around my old work schedule until I could barely find the motivation to work at all. Staring at the computer for the majority of the day, whether during lectures or in an attempt to be productive was incredibly draining to the point that I started to get headaches in the afternoons from all the mental stress and eye strain. Still, I found comfort in frequent Zoom calls with Harvard and high school friends who, like me, were all in the process of figuring out how they would cope with the coming months online. I also learned the value of taking breaks early on in my remote learning career. Whenever I felt particularly stressed out or unmotivated, I’d set a timer and get as far away from my workspace as possible to unwind. I found I was able to stay much more productive at Harvard than here in general, which I think has something to do with the fact that I had different spaces at school that inspired me to be productive, whereas at home there’s nowhere to go really — especially in a small apartment like mine — which can definitely burn you out sometimes. I could only get so far, but the simple change of scenery, however limited, always served as a much-needed refresher. I found it even helped me to get more done on any given day when I allowed myself these breathers. Without them, I would waste the time anyway, whether on my phone or in a book. Without it being an explicit break, however, I would stress that I should be doing work, leading me to then waste even more time and do less work.
As the weeks went by, I began to find more solace and structure in some classes than others. I took two seminar-style courses this semester and two lecture courses. The lecture courses were both taught asynchronously, which was incredibly helpful in that I could ration the time I spent on them however served me best. The seminars, on the other hand, definitely made me feel a lot closer to the community I was building at Harvard, but often meant that I had to sit at my desk and stare at my computer screen for the better part of three hours. To mediate that, one of the seminar professors chose to implement extended 5-minute breaks every 45 minutes or so in order to give us a chance to relax for a second. Sometimes this meant that class ran a couple minutes late, but by the end of it, I wasn’t as exhausted as I was at the end of my other seminar. Looking back on it now, I think those breaks allowed for much more class engagement and therefore a much stronger community by the end of the semester. It also meant that that class became one of my anchors during these otherwise uncertain months. Even though we were not physically in person, the class still felt very much like a small little family of sorts. Our professor always made sure to ask us how we were doing at the beginning of every class, and did her best to accommodate her class to the circumstances in which we found ourselves. My work for the Bok Center’s Learning Lab, too, has provided me with structure and a sense of normalcy amidst the pandemic. My weekly work shifts were a time for me to focus completely on one thing without worrying about all the other assignments or readings I had to do. The Learning Lab also gave me a space to be creative and try out new tools outside of my coursework. The weekly meetings that come with being a LLUF have also been helpful in keeping me grounded in the community I was a part of back on campus. A new week at the Learning Lab also means a new topic or tool to explore, which is great when everything else feels as though it’s been repeating week after week.
Looking back on my experience with online learning, I have found that my biggest challenge has been in recognizing that it is not the same as learning on campus, and that I should therefore not be treating it the same way. With the new normal, I’ve learned to give myself more time to do my work while allowing more time to myself as well. Since this semester has been Emergency SAT/UNSAT, I’ve been able to get away with this level of self-care, though moving forward, I worry that a shift back to the normal grading scale will make it impossible. Of course, I still give as much as I can to my classes, but there are times when I do need an extra extension or some leeway on an assignment simply because of the added responsibilities that come from working at home. I think some continued leniency in the way classes are taught and graded would be crucial if the fall were to be online as well. Especially for the students for whom remote learning is inaccessible for one reason or another. I’ve learned that even productivity itself may come in different forms. It may be helping out around the house, working on side projects or hobbies, or perhaps even volunteering for pandemic relief efforts. Productivity could also mean allowing yourself to take a step back from all the natural stresses of being a student, taking the time to take care of yourself and unwind, even if just so that when it is time to sit down and do school work, you're in a much better mindset to do so.
My experience working at the virtual Learning Lab has been nothing short of amazing. With all my classes and the state of the pandemic in constant flux, the Learning Lab has in many ways been my rock. Every time I start my virtual “shifts,” I’m welcomed with a new — often creative — task to complete, whether that be creating a tutorial on new online resources that students can use to enhance their remote learning or reflecting on my own experience learning online. The Learning Lab also helps me feel connected to campus and the community I was a part of there. It’s always great to see everyone during our weekly Zoom meetings! These meetings and our “Distance Diaries” (which are Google Slides files where we log all the work we’ve done each shift) have helped so much to keep me motivated and productive on days when I feel particularly disconnected from my learning experience. I’m able to come in and work on a specific task for a specific amount of time, which is especially refreshing now that my schedule outside of the Learning Lab has become more and more nebulous. Getting the opportunity to be creative for the Learning Lab, too, has provided a much-needed change of pace. I also believe that the work we do at the Learning Lab is becoming increasingly meaningful as we move towards the possibility of more remote learning in the fall, and the subsequent need to diversify the experience past Zoom meetings and lecture recordings.
First Day Back: Because I spent most of “Spring Break” writing my Junior Essay for Hist&Lit, my first day back to classes didn’t feel particularly unique. In fact, compared to the amount of work I was doing the week before, my regular coursework was not as demanding, and many teachers chose to postpone the first week back in order to give us time to adjust to our new situations—which I greatly appreciated. My typical day those first few days looked like:
First Week Back: The first week back mostly consisted of my family and I working out the difficulties of four people working/studying full-time out of the same house: so, a lot of WiFi problems, bickering over workspaces, accidentally walking into the backgrounds of each other’s Zoom meetings, etc. On a more positive note, I was able to spend a lot of time cooking, playing board games/watching movies with the family, and hanging out with our pets (which are definitely my favorite things about being home).
One Month In: At this point, my family has fallen into a pretty stable routine of sharing workspaces and being productive while in the same home. My classes are nearly all finished (I have only 3 assignments left) and all in all while remote learning is definitely far from ideal, I don’t feel like this half of a semester was totally lost academically. However, especially facing the potential of a remote fall semester, I’ve found myself dearly missing all other aspects of the college experience (social life, extracurriculars, etc.). To be honest, I don’t know what a semester without those things would look like, and I’m afraid that I took them for granted far too much before we left campus. I can only hope that I’ll have the chance to experience them again before I graduate, because my life as an undergrad is drastically reduced and incomplete without them.
Working at the LL has been an invaluable source of continuity, connection, and fun these past few weeks. At the LL, I feel productive but not pressured, which makes me excited to learn as much as I can. It also feels good to be a part of the effort to improve remote learning practices, knowing that my peers will all directly be impacted by that work. It is hard, though, to work a remote shift and not miss the Studio and all of its creativity, spontaneity, and good vibes. Despite this, I try to take as much comfort as possible in the knowledge that even as all other parts of undergraduate life are in flux right now, at least working at the LL is a constant in terms of the passion, intelligence, and kindness all of its employees bring to the table every day.
This semester, the most interesting way the LLUF manifesto impacted my work at the LL was in the dual manner in which teaching something to your peers allows you to learn it, too. When starting reactLab this January, my only experience with React was watching a handful of videos over winter break, and upon getting back to Bok I almost immediately launched into building React tutorials for beginner coders. This forced me to learn what I initially learned about React by teaching it—by creating a web app first, and then working my way back through my code to understand what happened and how I got there. That, in addition to a very basic conceptual understanding of the language that I got from those first few videos I watched and a Google Slides presentation I put together about the differences between React and other approaches to building web apps, was the perfect Learning Lab way for me to get started with React. Since I had to deliver my tutorials and presentations via workshops to fellow LLUFs or LL staff members, I had to put the knowledge I’d cobbled together to the test of answering questions and solving problems. In this way, presenting workshops was a similar experience to attending them—I could always count on learning something whether I was the one teaching or the one listening.
Title: Video Interaction App
This app is the brainchild of this semester’s reactLab—it employs React.js , Firebase, and the Vimeo API to create a video annotating interface where students can comment on a video, see their peers comments, and teachers can track the records of those comments.
We made this app in order to bring together our work teaching how to build apps in React, how to use APIs in React, and how to use Real-Time Databases in Firebase.
First Day Back:
Last night, I inexplicably felt my stomach tied up in knots. When I tried to explain it to my sister, the only apt description I could come up with was ‘it’s like the night before the first day of school.’ Indeed, that feeling I’ve felt year after year before starting fifth grade or even starting senior year of high school was the same one I felt in that moment. Initially, I kind of scoffed at it (this semester started a few months ago! This is old hat!). But, with everything so profoundly changed, I guess it is its own new beginning, in a sad kind of way. Or just maybe, it doesn’t have to be so sad! Today, going to distanceLab and chatting with Jordan, Sam, Laura, and others was so heartening and felt like it gave me a little sliver of normalcy and hope for these months ahead. I’m really looking forward to the virtual Bok Center being my anchor in many ways -- a means of reconnecting with my beloved co-workers, engaging and thinking critically about learning at a distance, and being forward-looking.
First Week Back:
Wow, this week at once feels like it’s stretched on for a month and been exceptionally brief. I think I lose track of space and time when I’m mostly spending my day in one spot by my desk! I find that I really lose stamina throughout the day and am definitely the most focused in the morning time (when I have my tea, of course!). I once thought that passing time, walks to class, and hour-long meals were sometimes an impediment and often where much of my day went, but I now value those things in their absence so much more as opportunities to reset.
On the academic side of things, I took a seated midterm exam this week, which was a very strange experience; it was hard to get myself in the right headspace to take the test and then very hard to ‘walk it off’ once over. I found that the stress of the test sort of followed me throughout my room and mind the whole day. I think often about how experiences and memories can become extremely tied to the spaces in which we experience them, and I wonder if getting as much of a change of scene as possible (read: going downstairs or invading my sister’s room) will create or at least mimic that sense of variability and spontaneity that physically being in college does so well.
As for Zoom classes, I find that they are working better than expected! I’m definitely figuring out the tricks of the trade (business casual on top, PJs on the bottoms; turn off my video and DEFINITELY my sound when it’s snack time). My most engaging class has definitely been my seminar, as they leverage continued use of breakout rooms. Breakout rooms almost make turning and talking to a partner even more engaging because you leave the earshot of everyone else and can really engage with them. My OEB lecture class can sometimes be a bit disengaging due to the lack of use of this feature, but when we do a breakout activity, I definitely am back at attention in a heartbeat and more prepared to engage with the material. On the whole, it’s been really heartening to see and check in everyone and rally around this together.
First Month Back:
I am utterly bewildered by the fact that, as I write this, it’s been a month a day since I packed up my life on campus and crammed it into my family’s Honda Pilot. Today also marks a month since all sit-down restaurants were closed in Massachusetts. Those are just two of so many things that have changed around the country and world. In my own life, doing schoolwork from home has been very difficult in some respects and fun in some others. I’ve definitely had so much of a better understanding of what my days are like at school when I’m not there. For instance, I spend so much of my time taking meals or walking places (which I think contributes to my ‘hurry up and go’ attitude, which has now segued into ‘hurry up and wait.’) Now, I think I fill that transitional time with either surfing the web or checking my email or catching up with friends.
My own innovations to keep a sense of normalcy have primarily been social -- my blockmates and I are found solace in working on a collaborative project together to keep us creative, busy, and thoughtful. But, it's not all work and no play: we also have game nights once a week to unwind, and they're some of the highlights of my quarantined time. Also, simply opening up my Zoom room to work in the presence of friends has been a wonderful tool and restored the feeling of working in Widener or Kirkland basement with companions and curbed a bit of the loneliness one inevitably feels so far flung from everyone. Also, my nightly constitutional walk has really been critical to keeping my blood pumping and spirits high.
Nonetheless, I’ve also found how difficult it is to partition ‘work’ and ‘home’ when, how you say, working at home -- this is especially tough in the microcosm of my computer, where a switch of a tab can take me from working diligently to goofing off. I’ve also been amused (and, at times, beset) by some first world problems that have really taken hold when technology is your portal to the outside world (a broken spacebar really sent me into a tizzy a few days back).
One class that has rebounded so well in the face of this adversity is Physical Sciences 70: Introduction to Digital Fabrication. The professors are willing to purchase and ship students tools they need, and the use of Slack has created more of a conversation between students and faculty that unites us over common code problems and dreaming up medical solutions with 3D printed materials.
On campus, the work was much more individual, but I feel like our class community is so much stronger and more collaborative in spirit now.
Now, thinking about how we define excellence moving forward, I have a few thoughts about how Harvard could set a good example:
Prioritizing Integrity: This is so incredibly important now more than before, when temptations and the ease of misconduct are perhaps raised. I think continuing to do and pursue honest academic work will be the cornerstone of remote learning.
Leading with Flexibility: I think that by trying to accommodate every student’s situation, from providing financial assistance to adapting syllabi to continuing to provide counseling services, bringing as many of the campus’ benefits to students no matter where they are is going to be creating an environment where excellence is at all possible.
Change-Driven Learning: How can we tailor our studies to best understand the current state of the world around us and impact our own local communities, especially when we have so many resources at our disposal even from afar?
Lastly, on the note of the title, while I have been randomly walking around my neighborhood quite a bit, it feels to me like our collective experience and lifestyle is defined by so much uncertainty and stochasticity. We can take life one day at a time, with little plan for how our final path will look in the future. Nonetheless, move forward we must, doing the best we can to take a step in the right direction. I have a lot of hope that we'll look back on our trajectory and know that, when the state of the world called for it, we made the right moves.
Working as a LLUF during the latter half of the semester has been a joy and, truly, an anchor amidst so much unwieldiness. Returning home, I quickly came to realize that much of the vibrant bustle that characterized my life at school was extinguished -- I didn’t have rehearsals to run to or editorial meetings to sit in on, and this left my day feeling empty and, often, fruitless. But on our first day of Zoom class, I attended distanceLab, and seeing my friends and being reassured that we could all still collaborate was like a little beacon of hope and normalcy.
My work itself has also been instrumental to my growth during this time. At school, due to the aforementioned hustle and bustle, I often could only work 2 hours a week. During quarantine, I’ve been able to engage so much more (often up to 8 hours/week!) and even get to know some other Bok employees better from afar (like Lauren and Phil). While virtual learning has been stressful and disorienting at times, I’ve been able to think critically about its victories and downsides with multifarious distance diary prompts. Work as a LLUF during COVID-19 has equipped me to be at once forward-looking and reflective, pensive and creative, a student and (occasionally) a teacher.
I consider it one of my greatest privileges not only that I’m employed during this time but that my place of work is the Bok Center.
My first day back consisted of getting set up on Zoom and adjusted to my new home/work environment. Within that first week, my schedule changed a lot. I was in a different time zone, and some of my courses had changed meeting times. After a month, I realized that while working from home posed several struggles (bad wifi, disruptions, etc), I was able to get my homework done more efficiently since I could work on them for a long stretch of time, rather than broken up into bits due to extracurricular activities when I was on campus. Despite, the period of transition, I learned a lot about how I work and learn this semester, and I feel good about the work that I have done.
The LL has fit into my schedule seamlessly. I work on distanceLab tasks on Thursdays and Fridays once my classes are over for the week. I have learned so many new skills due to our free access to Adobe Creative Cloud. Additionally, the reflection prompts have really allowed me to explore and think about how remote learning has impacted my college experience.
During my time at home, the favorite test I completed was the Adobe Illustrator Vector Tutorial. I really wanted a refresher on Illustrator, and this tutorial was the perfect way to do it! It was just the right length, and it took me through all the basic functions and tools to create my own vector graphics!
This semester, I focused on building skills using Adobe Creative Cloud and Adobe Spark. I became quite comfortable with Spark and Photoshop, and I have improved my skills in Illustrator and Lightroom. I also learned Markdown and how to navigate github. I really like Latex and writing in Markdown reminded me a lot of using Latex.
This was not something I made for the LL. This was part of my creative final project for WGS 1225. I really wanted to showcase it here, although it is unrelated to the LL, because it represents what the LL has empowered me to be able to do. I used to be afraid of creative projects because I felt I didn’t have the skills to do well. However this semester I chose the creative option, and I was able to create this collage using Photoshop, Illustrator, and Spark using the skills that I gained this semester working for the LL. This part of the project is a satirical representation of the current body positivity movement promoted by social media influencers and social media ad campaigns. I was able to contribute the the current discourse about the movement using the creative skills I picked up here!