Teaching during the pandemic

PROFile: Dr. Davina DesRoches, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, U of W

When it comes to teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Davina DesRoches – an assistant professor in the University of Winnipeg’s (U of W)  Department of Sociology – actively tries to be as understanding as possible under the current circumstances. 

Supplied photo

For DesRoches, the difficulty lies in maintaining balance between being compassionate and upholding certain academic standards. In addition to trying to find and maintain this balance, DesRoches has to adapt her lectures to an online format. Naturally, the situation is not ideal for students or faculty alike. 

“They say that to become a really good online teacher, it takes about five years of training,” she says. 

DesRoches notes that while some professors acclimate a little faster, others struggle to get accustomed to the change. In particular, DesRoches has difficulties working with Zoom and dealing with technological challenges that come with online teaching. 

But despite these difficulties, DesRoches has noticed some of her students pitching in and helping out. 

“People are really stepping up,” she says. “A sociologist would say they’re ‘saving the scene.’” 

In fact, DesRoches has found that in both her urban sociology class and especially in her sociology of work class, there was a great deal of discussion among her students for an extended period of time. 

“I’ve never had this in person before,” she says. “In person, we maybe talk for 10 minutes, and then everyone would go silent, but over Zoom, when we’re just kind of staring at each other – but really looking a little off – you have to talk.” 

DesRoches found this impressive, since, in her experience, second-year students tend to be a little more shy about raising their hands and sharing information. 

What’s more, the quality of the discussions also meet a high standard. DesRoches says she can tell her students are engaging with the material and doing the readings, which brings a smile to her face. 

Ultimately DesRoches takes the good with the bad, which is all anyone can do.

What is something you’ve learned from your students?

“If I stumble and flail around occasionally, that’s okay.”

What was your worst grade in university?

“I got a B+ in my first intro psychology class, and it’s the only one I got, and it makes me really mad.” 

What’s the best thing about your work?

“It’s timely, and it’s relevant, and I know after every interview I do, that interview mattered. It mattered to the person I did the interview with. It will matter to the broader community once they’re able to read it.”

A question DesRoches asks her students in class: Do you think a robot could do your job?

“I think a robot could do some of my job. I think the right AI technology could potentially scan all of the relevant literature on a particular topic and pull out themes and kind of spit them out. So ... a robot could do parts of my job.”

Published in Volume 75, Number 06 of The Uniter (October 22, 2020)

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