The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an unwelcome disruption in our lives. For me, this took the form of flying 9394 miles home from the United States where I was given three days to pack my life at Harvard into three suitcases. And as we stand at this turning point in history and reevaluate traditional forms of teaching and learning, it is also important to acknowledge and celebrate the efforts of cyber communities that have sprung up as a reaction to COVID-19.
Community-building efforts outside the classroom has not been quashed by the coronavirus. The Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), for example, has set up a 24/7 unmoderated, open Google Hangout space that allows students to “pop in” to the (virtual) lobby of the Gutman Library – which was the main socialization space at HGSE. We can log in at any time and randomly “bump” into schoolmates, reminiscent of how it was actually like at the physical lobby of the library.
Community-building fosters connection and students have also found creative ways to remain connected during this period. My course mate, Liza, started leading weekly Zoomba classes (i.e. Zumba classes on Zoom, hence the spelling), bringing people together for a cardio dance workout in the comfort of their homes. Another course mate, Katherine, leads meditation check-in sessions. She facilitates visualization and walking meditation techniques to help connect us with our bodies and ground ourselves in this period of change and uncertainty. Others have organized virtual happy hours, game nights, and jamming sessions. These are just some of the innovative community-building methods that I have experienced and am grateful for.
It is said that “we cannot change the wind, but we can adjust the sails”. Indeed, may we take this time of disruption to intensify our community-building efforts as we adapt and grow through the COVID-19 crisis.
Hazel Peh is currently a postgraduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, pursuing a Ed.M. in Learning and Teaching. She is passionate about issues relating to equity, education and the environment. In the realm of education, she is particularly interested in teacher professional development and improving school culture. She is the vice president of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Singaporean and Malaysian Association, and a member of the Singapore Policy Journal based at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Prior to graduate school, she enjoyed teaching Biology at a local high school and was a volunteer at Meet-the-People’s sessions. She was also part of a committee spearheading public environmental education. Hazel is looking forward to contributing to the education landscape in Singapore upon completion of her studies.