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From the Newsletter: Sustaining FUN Connections Through Zoom

Shelly Dickinson, Amy Jo Stavnezer, and David Jewett share how they have maintained their connection with the FUN community throughout the pandemic, thanks to Zoom.

Virtually Sustained FUN Connections: Using the Power of Zoom for Good

Authors: Shelly Dickinson (St. Olaf College), Amy Jo Stavnezer (College of Wooster), David

Jewett (University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire)
 

This article must begin with a sincere acknowledgement to the team that organized and

implemented the 2020 FUN Summer Virtual Meeting (SVM). Without that “kick start”, the basis

for this article would never have occurred. Annual meetings are beacons on the horizon for

many reasons, but for the three of us, and we know we are not alone, a main beam of that light

is associated with spending time with colleagues and friends at FUN-related events. Though

Zoom and other online meeting platforms had been widely used in many settings before the

COVID pandemic, we, like many faculty, remained blissfully unaware that successful, prolonged,

relationships could (or might have to) take place through a remote, synchronous platform.

There is no doubt the SVM provided days of important, robust instruction on remote pedagogy.

Perhaps more importantly, the SVM showed us (three older dogs who weren't hip to the

technology of the kids these days) that we could share a remote space together in a meaningful

way.


Though the authors have long been colleagues, teach some common or related courses, and

often spend time together at the Society for Neuroscience conference talking about shared

pedagogical experiences, we never took advantage of meeting remotely to sustain those

conversations. The SVM showed us how and since that time we have met every couple of weeks

or so. Each of us has benefited independently and our students have benefited collectively. We

know the ideas below will not be completely novel, but we share them to invigorate your

consideration of how such a remote collaboration might benefit you.
 

Thanks to overlapping course content, we shared materials including: assignments highlighting

under-represented scientists, data sets for remote analysis, mindfulness stress reduction

exercises related to behavioral neuroscience, instructions for behavior modification student

projects, and full content lectures in pharmacology and stress. Though documents have long

been easily shared, the advantages gained by our conversations around these materials cannot

be overstated. Sharing in real time, learning how, when, and why these exercises did or did not

work, and what aids their success gave us the necessary insight to adapt for our own classes. It

allowed for a fuller elaboration of the pedagogical practices we were working toward with an

opportunity to share how things went, what we would change, and how to maintain the goal of

active, engaged, meaningful learning. We shared published tools and resources from the

scholarship of teaching and learning with descriptions and context to provide opportunities for

continued growth.


Beyond this, our sustained conversation and virtual connection has allowed for the

development of deep trust and honesty. Because we see each other often, there has been time

for things to get real. We are colleagues able to be fully open with each other. We are not afraid

to ask stupid questions, and frequently asked each other “why are you doing that?” and “what

is the purpose of this assignment?.” We encouraged each other to try things in a different way

and often proposed half-baked ideas for consideration or development. We helped one

member develop a first-year course description and another work through a new course

management system. We will admit that at times, the conversation devolved into self-help

sessions in working with difficult students, but even then, having the wisdom of three different

voices in the room often led to more creative solutions, if not simply to recognize that we are all

in this together. We used each other as “on campus colleagues” who were not around due to

COVID. Our connection deepened through these regular opportunities to talk with each other in

real time which has allowed the group to support each other as whole people.


Given that our time with FUN is normally about pedagogy, our actual research programs have

not been a large discussion topic until now. As three rodent researchers we had the opportunity

to share how our laboratories responded to the pandemic, and how we train and select

research assistants. As we learned of the commonalities in our research programs, we began to

serve as research peers for one another. When one of us gave a remote research talk at a

regional conference, the others provided valuable feedback. We brainstormed experimental

ideas, shared preliminary data, and worked through a statistical training, partly in person (see

Figure 1). The creation of virtual research peers could be a useful strategy to combat the

challenges many of us face as research islands at our home institutions.


Having close colleagues at other institutions is a powerful tool. FUN has long been a meaningful

tribe for each of us, but during the pandemic, we no longer had access to our usual FUN crew.

The SVM planted the seed for us to try regular, virtual meetings that allowed us to experience

some level of “normal” interactions. We plan to continue these calls and, in fact, have started a

pedagogical book club. We are hardwired for connection, and these Zoom calls alleviated some

of the darkness we lived through over the past year and half.

Figure 1. The authors, June 2021.
Figure 1. The authors, June 2021.