Tagged pedagogies of care

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Screenshot of Mac OS computer interface, with an image of an Egon Schiele painting in a small window at the left, and a larger Gravit Designer window with a composition of rectangles based on the painting.
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Trauma-Informed Pedagogy in the Digital Media Pandemic Classroom

Abstract

After CUNY suspended in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, I started teaching a half-semester long digital media production course. Rapidly migrating a digital media production course to remote learning creates problems specific to our software-based classrooms, as many of our students lack access to the fixed technology used in the course. As I negotiated these problems, I sought first and foremost to reduce the harm this course would cause my stressed students. To promote care, and minimize harm, I made several decisions that prioritized students’ needs and limits, without sacrificing the rigor that would prepare them for the subsequent courses in the program. These decisions included: delivering asynchronous lessons via Blackboard with flexible assignment deadlines and using two Adobe web app clones, Photopea, and Designer.io, rather than Adobe software itself. This essay articulates these decisions as a trauma-informed pedagogy of care. This theoretical framework builds on feminist ethics of care, public health principles of harm reduction, and social welfare’s trauma-informed practice. This approach allowed me to destigmatize illness and late assignments, and reduce the stress that this course would have on the already traumatized lives of my students, colleague, and myself.

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of New York City, the City University of New York moved all of its courses online. One of my courses was a half-semester-long digital media arts course which was scheduled to begin in the middle of March, after the transition to distance learning. As I converted the course, I made several key decisions that prioritized students’ needs and limits, and minimized complexity. Because I knew many of my students wouldn’t have access to fixed technology, I used two Adobe web app clones, Photopea and Designer.io, rather than Adobe software itself. Anticipating that COVID-19 would prevent students from participating consistently, I taught the course through asynchronous lessons, with a flexible timeline. Despite Blackboard’s many problems (Lapowsky 2015), I used it because I knew my students’ other classes would use this official CUNY platform and I didn’t want them to learn anything new or to remember any extra passwords.

In all of these decisions, I sought first and foremost to reduce the harm this course would cause my stressed students. In that mid-March moment, all signs indicated that this recently-designated pandemic would get really bad, and I didn’t want this class to make it worse. I balanced two competing pedagogical principles: the imperative to make this process as easy as possible and not produce unnecessary stress for the students, the other adjunct instructor who would be using my materials, and for myself; and the need to ensure that the students actually learned the material well enough that they would be able to succeed in the courses that follow this class. Or to put it more bluntly: I tried to prioritize care and reduce harm, without sacrificing rigor. The approach seemed to work, as more students successfully completed the class than during a regular semester.

In this essay I will articulate a theoretical framework for how I was thinking about these decisions as I made them and how I have come to understand these decisions in retrospect. At the time, I framed my pedagogical choices through a feminist lens as decisions about care and harm. Additionally, my familiarity with harm reduction principles gave me a loose framework to assess my decisions, destigmatizing illness and late assignments, and reducing the stress that this course would have on the already traumatized lives of my students, colleague, and myself. In retrospect, I will frame these decisions through trauma-informed pedagogy, a practice I only recently learned of.

Care and Harm

In recent years, many differently motivated organizations, movements, and individuals have deployed or theorized discourses of care, caregiving, and self-care. Just weeks before the pandemic took hold, both Social Text and The Sociological Review published special issues on radical care (Hobart and Kneese 2020; Silver and Hall 2020). Writing in the intro to Social Text, Hi‘ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart and Tamara Kneese juxtapose these competing claims:

On the one hand, self-care is both a solution to and a symptom of the social deficits of late capitalism, evident, for example, in the way that remedies for hyperproductivity and the inevitable burnout that follows are commoditized in the form of specialized diets, therapies, gym memberships, and schedule management. On the other hand, a recent surge of academic interest in care … considers how our current political and sociotechnical moment sits at the forefront of philosophical questions about who cares, how they do it, and for what reason.

Care means something very different for childcare worker advocates and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand. Of course, COVID-19 only further exacerbated these tensions between corporate carewashing and the strain on essential care workers (Chatzidakis et al. 2020).

Care has an extended relationship to pedagogy. Nel Noddings articulated the feminist ethics of care philosophy to argue that care is a core element and value in pedagogical relationships between teachers and students (Noddings 1984). Her pedagogy of care has been very influential, especially in early childhood education, and has also been critiqued for its gender essentialism (Monchinski 2010). Others have explored the ways in which the theory would need to be transformed to be applicable to online education, with its shifts in contexts and relationships (Rose and Adams 2014).

My own engagement with care comes out of my work on Art+Feminism, an international community that strives to close the information gap about gender, feminism, and the arts on Wikipedia. Taking inspiration from Audre Lorde’s statement that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” (Lorde 1988), we design our events to support our participant’s minds, bodies, and psyches. We do this by constructing welcoming and accessible trainings, providing food and childcare at our events, and by maintaining a friendly spaces policy (Evans, Mabey, and Mandiberg 2015). We do this because we know that activism takes physical and emotional energy and is often met with resistance. We seek to care for the participants and to reduce the potential of any harm that may come to them (Tamani et al. 2020).

My work with Art+Feminism has caused me to think a lot about how to reduce the harm that our participants experience. It may be unconventional, but in that intense moment in March, I used my admittedly surface level understanding of harm reduction as a loose framework to assess my decisions. Originally articulated during the 1980’s HIV epidemic to describe needle exchanges, harm reduction is a public health theory that eschews an abstinence-only approach to risk and disease in favor of practices that minimize negative outcomes (Des Jarlais 2017). To be clear, I am in no way equating taking a digital media course in a pandemic with opioid addiction; the concept of harm reduction can be implemented in different circumstances. While harm reduction remains most frequently discussed in terms of drug and alcohol addiction or sex education, society has widely adopted many other harm reduction strategies: seat belt laws and rest stops reduce traffic deaths endemic to automotive travel; hard hats, bicycle, motorcycle, hockey and football helmets reduce serious brain injuries; life vests and fences around pools help prevent drowning; and sunscreen mitigates the danger of skin cancer inherent in being outdoors (UNAIDS 2017). During the pandemic, societies have encouraged social distancing, hand washing, and wearing masks to help reduce the likelihood of contracting COVID. These are forms of harm reduction: we accept that it is not possible for most people to completely abstain from interacting with other people and, for those that continue this inherently risky behavior, certain practices can help reduce the potential for physical harm (Kutscher and Greene 2020). Of course, these measures have not mitigated the pandemic’s significant mental health impact (Choi et al. 2020; Abbott 2021).

While it may be unconventional to apply harm reduction principles to the mental health impacts of the pandemic classroom, a small number of practitioners have discussed applying harm reduction principles to mental health (Krausz et al. 2014). While writing this essay I learned about social welfare’s use of trauma-informed practice to provide services that are sensitive to their clients’ traumatic histories. Trauma-informed practice is built around five principles: ensuring safety, establishing trustworthiness, maximizing choice, maximizing collaboration, and prioritizing empowerment (Fallot and Harris 2001). Educators have adapted these principles into a trauma-informed pedagogy in K–12 education (Thomas, Crosby, and Vanderhaar 2019), and more recently in post-secondary education—first in social welfare (Carello and Butler 2015), and to other disciplines in the wake of the pandemic (Imad 2020). At their core, these practices seek to minimize the potential for retraumatization and maximize students emotional and cognitive safety.

While I was motivated by discourses of care and harm, trauma is probably a more precise definition. I always enter the classroom with the knowledge that my students have already experienced trauma, as people living in an unequal society, whose divisions, imbalances and punishments are marked by the intersections of race, gender, and class. I knew that many of my students would be physically vulnerable, and the rest would be economically vulnerable. Most of my students hold jobs, many of which are full time. I knew that most of my students either work in parts of the service sector that would be deemed essential or in retail jobs that would be laid off or furloughed. They live at home with their parents, who are similarly vulnerable.

Thus, as I redesigned the course, I centered care by reducing the potential for harm and trauma that this course might cause my already traumatized students. I knew that the COVID-19 crisis would amplify and transform a task that would have previously been a productive challenge into a debilitating barrier to completing an assignment or the course. We had to get our way through the semester amidst a public health crisis, and I wanted to make sure I removed as many barriers as possible and reduced the stress that this course would have on my students, colleagues, and myself.

Digital Foundations Online

COM 115 Introduction to Media Environments is a one-credit, 7 ½-week course that introduces students to the basics of digital media production. It is required of all students in the Communications major at the College of Staten Island and is the prerequisite for all courses in the Design and Digital Media specialization. COM 115 is the only course in our program with a standardized syllabus used across all sections and instructors. I typically teach two to three sections a year, while the other six to eight sections are taught by adjunct faculty. During the second half of the Spring 2020 semester there was only one other section, taught by an adjunct instructor.

I developed the course alongside the Digital Foundations textbook I co-authored with xtine burrough (burrough and Mandiberg 2008) and maintain the wiki version of Digital Foundations, which is kept up to date with Adobe software releases. Like Digital Foundations, COM 115 integrates historical examples and the design principles of the Bauhaus into an introduction to digital media production. For example, in COM 115 students use the Josef Albers color theory exercises in order to understand the Color Picker tool, integrating history, aesthetics, and technique in the same lesson. While the course emphasizes design principles and techniques over software training, the class does function as the “Intro to Adobe” for our department. The Adobe Creative Cloud has developed a monopoly on design and digital imaging software in the creative industries and in the classrooms of students who aspire to enter those industries. Like all monopolies, Adobe extracts a hefty price—one that has become more unavoidable since they shifted to a subscription-only model.

In March, faculty from across CUNY converged on the usually quiet Media, Arts, and Technology Discipline Council group on the Academic Commons to participate in a thread titled “Moving production courses online for COVID // the Adobe problem.” Though media arts courses are well suited for online delivery, rapidly migrating a digital media production course to remote learning creates problems specific to the tools and techniques used in our software-based classrooms. This is not just a problem for this course, or for all digital media arts instructors, but for all courses that rely on fixed technology—especially those at underfunded public institutions like CUNY with students who have difficulty accessing fixed technology (Andre Becker, Bonadie-Joseph, and Cain 2013; Smale and Regalado 2017); as opposed to mobile technology like smartphones, fixed technology refers to desktop computers, printers, and other resources that are often only available to our students in computer labs.

My own experience piloting an online version of the class in 2012 confirmed this challenge. Because of a failure in the CUNY First registration software, very few of the students realized they were registering for an online course. Roughly half of the students dropped the class, and many of those that remained struggled to succeed because they were unable to access the necessary Adobe software. I made my decisions to ensure my students would not experience this kind of trauma as a result of my course.

Avoiding Adobe

Two side-by-side screenshots of the Photopea and Adobe Photoshop user interfaces, with the mouse cursor hovering over the Transform menu item in the Edit menu; the Transform sub menu is almost identical in both screenshots.
Figure 1. A comparison of the nearly identical Free Transform menu options in Photopea and Adobe Photoshop.

I decided to not use Adobe software, opting instead to use two Adobe web app clones: Photopea and Designer.io. I made this decision by following my goal to prioritize care and reduce harm, without sacrificing rigor. I can say with confidence that this was the right decision.

At the time that I made the decision to use web apps, we did not know if our department’s Mac lab or the library labs would stay open—they did not. Nor did we know whether or not students would be able to access the Adobe software on their own computers—they were, because Adobe granted a special license, but we only learned this a week after the course began. I knew that if Adobe didn’t make that special license available, most of my students would not be able to secure their own copies of the software because of its subscription model’s substantial cost. Once it was made available by the school several weeks into the course, only a small percentage of the students installed it—the majority used the web apps, including all the students who came to video office hours.

Many of our students do not have easy access to fixed technology, and those that do have access to a desktop or laptop may not be comfortable installing software, nor may the computer be powerful enough to effectively run the resource intensive Adobe software. Because so many of our students lacked access to computing, CUNY made an emergency purchase of 25,000 Chromebooks and 25,000 Android tablets to ensure our students would be able to access online learning. Many of my students used these Chromebooks for the course. I chose to avoid the open source Inkscape and GIMP because of the difficulty of installing software, because of the uncertainty about the capabilities of the Chromebooks, and because their interfaces diverge from the Adobe software more than the two web apps.

Two side-by-side screenshots of the Designer.io and Adobe Illustrator user interfaces, with the mouse cursor clicking on the Shape Tool, showing the tool options; the tool icon and options are similar, but not identical, and they are located in different areas of the interface.
Figure 2. A comparison of the Shape Tool in Designer.io and Adobe Illustrator.

The user interface for Photopea is almost identical to that of Photoshop, and Designer.io follows the principles of Illustrator though its interface diverges more. In Photopea, the menu item names are almost all exactly the same, in the same place, with almost identical iconography; in Designer.io the tools are very similar, if located in slightly different places. Photopea even exports the PSD format with layers. They aren’t exactly identical: for example, Designer.io a has a slightly different pathfinder tool, and intermediate tools such as unsharp mask are missing in Photopea. Neither has the kind of advanced features that the Adobe software has, but these are sufficient for an introductory class at the 100 or 200 level. Most importantly, these tools scaffold directly into using the Adobe software: the tools, menus and concepts are so similar.

Using these web apps was the right decision. I experienced very few difficulties with students getting set up to use the software, and it worked on macOS, Windows, and Chrome OS. While neither is set up for mobile use, both officially work on tablets, though they were a bit glitchy in my testing. Most importantly, I am confident that the students who will continue on to other 200-level courses in the program will be able to seamlessly move into the Adobe software.

A caveat: I cannot predict the longevity of these two websites. I couldn’t find much information about Gravit, the for-profit Canadian company that develops Designer.io. Confusingly, Photopea has a GitHub repository for “bug reports and general discussion” without any code, but “Photopea is not fully open-source.” I don’t know what their business models are nor if they have sufficient resources to continue keeping these tools up and running.

Another caveat: both Photopea and Designer.io are freemium web apps. They include advertisements, and up-sell pitches for their premium versions. Designer.io requires you to create a login. I’m conscious of the adage that “if you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold” (blue_beetle 2010). Working within my principles of harm and care, I felt confident that a few more ad targeting cookies were a lesser harm than not being able to access any software.

Asynchronous instructional design and learning experiences

Knowing that the pandemic was certain to destabilize my students’ lives, and their schedules, I chose to design an asynchronous course in order to prioritize care and minimize harm. I knew that some students’ lives would be completely derailed by the pandemic, but if I structured enough flexibility into the course so students could complete the assignments when their pandemic timelines allowed, I could reduce the potential that they would fail to complete the course. I used Blackboard as the platform for asynchronous videos, pairing these with video office hours during the regularly scheduled two-hour class period. As much as I detest Blackboard, I knew that my students would be using it in their other classes, and would be most comfortable there. In the best of times, I substantially but productively challenge my students when I use Wikipedia or the CUNY Academic Commons as the course platform (Davis 2012). In these worst of times, I feared a new interface would be harmful.

Figure 3. First video demonstration: Dynamic and Static Compositions.
Video demonstrating Mac OS computer interface, with an image of an Egon Schiele painting in a small window at the left, and a larger Gravit Designer window with a composition of rectangles based on the painting.

Using the web apps, I made video demonstrations of each of the exercises we cover from Digital Foundations. I shared these videos with my students and the adjunct instructor via a public Dropbox folder, which also includes the course syllabus, and the text of each of the assignments; additionally I posted a Study Guide in preparation for the exam. In the principle of reducing strain for everyone, including my adjunct colleague, I shared all of my assessment and communication materials via a private folder. These materials included: quizzes and exam for Blackboard; exam text and individual images; and all emails and announcements. I decided to make the weekly quizzes for practice only, rather than grading them, in an effort to lower the stakes.

Course dynamics were starkly different from teaching this in-person, or as a synchronous online course. Essentially everyone was doing their own private effort. They had almost no interaction with each other. Trauma-informed pedagogy emphasizes communication between students, collaboration, and peer support, which were entirely absent from this model (Imad 2020). And yet, they were able to finish the course. Of the fifteen students in the course, one dropped, and one never completed any assignments, but the remaining thirteen completed the majority of the assignments and all of them passed. Of these, five came to my video office hours; one student came every week, two students came every other week, and the other two popped in once. Four of the students who never came to office hours were very self-directed and highly motivated, and maybe had some previous experience with digital imaging. The remaining four who struggled and never made it to office hours made clear that they were impacted by COVID-19.

In retrospect, I recognize that I fostered the trust and safety that trauma-informed pedagogy advocates by encouraging my students to keep their video off if they wanted, which they did. During video office hours I only saw one student’s face, briefly, when they pressed the wrong button when trying to share their screen. While some of my colleagues actively complained that they couldn’t see their students, I knew my students needed privacy. They have a right to not let their classmates and their professors see the inside of their messy bedroom, or the closet, bathroom where they retreated from their other family members to get quiet and privacy. I found I was able to build rapport with the five who came to office hours despite the absence of video; and maybe I succeeded precisely because I didn’t ask them for video.

Challenges

The course was not without challenges specific to the online format and the larger pandemic context. The main instructional challenge that I faced was in demonstrating resolution. We typically do this by scanning objects; we set the resolution on the scanner and analyze the image in Photoshop. Knowing they would not have access to scanners—I didn’t even have a scanner at home—I reframed the exercise on photographic composition, with the emphasis on printing the image in multiple resolutions so they could see the different print sizes. I should have seen this coming, but I falsely assumed that they would have access to printers, so I reframed the printing process with an emphasis on taking screenshots of the print preview interface, which shows how big the print is in relationship to the paper size. There were more hiccups: the “print actual size” option is not available in the default Windows tool, something that I didn’t know because I don’t have access to a Windows computer at home, so I worked with one of the students to figure out a workaround, and she made a video demonstrating it. Unfortunately, we did not find a workaround for Chromebooks.

The larger challenge, as expected, was that half of my students were mostly disengaged from the course. At the start of the course, I told the students that the course was self-paced, but they should try to do one chapter a week, and to have the first three chapters done by halfway through the course. At the halfway mark only half of the students had completed the three chapters, and I was worried. I spent a lot of time writing them to encourage them to complete the work and relied heavily on a College of Staten Island Student Affairs COVID specific “EDUCares” team that succeeded in reaching the students I could not get engaged. EDUcares’ mandate included checking in on unresponsive students, performing a hybrid wellness check/late homework reminder. I shared a list of students who had not responded to my emails with EDUcares, and they emailed the students on their non-CUNY email addresses and/or called them at home and in some cases on their cell phones. They were able to get responses from all but one of the students and all but that one student (who never responded throughout the course) completed the first three chapters shortly after. During these exchanges I learned what I suspected: many of them did not have internet access, were without a computer until they received a CUNY loaner Chromebook, or were sharing a computer with other members of their family.

Outcomes

Certain aspects of the course (and the knowledge they produce) were simply not possible in this format: when I teach color theory in person, we spend fifteen minutes of class looking at and describing the colors of the clothes that everyone in the class is wearing. By the end of those fifteen minutes, they understand that there really is no such thing as black or white and they start to see the blues and purples in the very dark grey they previously would have called black and the yellows and oranges in the 5 percent grey that they would have called white. That simply isn’t possible to do as a group, in this online format. It isn’t really possible to do it with colors on a screen, as these are so removed from their lived experience, and each person’s screen will have a different color profile. I tried to do it with the one student who came to office hours every week, and it took us thirty minutes of one-on-one discussion—it is very strange asking a student to describe the color of the computer they are working on and persuading them that it isn’t actually dark grey, as they claim, but rather is a very low saturation dark blue.

To speak more broadly, it seems so hard to do radical pedagogy online. The software is structured around the banking model of education (Freire [1970] 2000), except instead of the human instructor at the front of the classroom depositing knowledge into the students’ presumed empty minds, it is a video of the instructor. Paolo Freire would be sad to see this (Boyd 2016). When I teach this course again, I will try to work against that as much as possible. This is one place where I might have sacrificed too much of the rigor in favor of care and reducing harm.

On the other hand, I feel like more of the students demonstrated baseline competency in the techniques that we covered. More specifically: in a typical in-person class of fifteen students, two-to-four students fall behind and never catch up because they always came twenty minutes late, missed the first class, couldn’t complete assignments on time, etc. This format alleviated some of this problem. In a typical in-person section those two-to-four students per class sit for the final exam and still fail the course, but in this format everyone who took the final passed; the only person who did not pass the course, never completed a single assignment and earned a WU (Withdrew Unofficially) grade. In this online course, the students who struggled did show their limits: in the final exam they performed better than the typical students who sit for but fail the final exam in an in-person class, but worse than the students who had steadily completed assignments throughout the course. Overall, the cohort did as well or better than most in person classes on the hands-on section of the final exam.

This was an emergency effort. None of these students expected to take an online class. My adjunct colleague and I never expected to teach one. Despite this strained context, my decisions to prioritize care in order to minimize harm helped us all get through the semester, while preparing the students to succeed in future courses. Though our classrooms will “return to normal” some point—or whatever our new normal will be—our students will carry the trauma of this pandemic. I hope to continue this trauma-informed pedagogy of care, finding a new balance between reducing harm and maintaining rigor in what will hopefully be a less traumatic post-pandemic teaching environment.

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About the Author

Michael Mandiberg is an interdisciplinary artist who created Print Wikipedia, edited The Social Media Reader (NYU Press), and co-founded Art+Feminism. Their work has been exhibited at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, amongst others. Mandiberg is Professor of Media Culture at the College of Staten Island, CUNY and Doctoral Faculty at The Graduate Center, CUNY.

Logo for CLE teaching collaborative, featuring four squares with circles that resemble students or teachers, themselves arranged facing each other in a square.
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Collaboration, Risk, and Pedagogies of Care: Looking to a Postpandemic Future

Abstract

Teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for many important, and often long overdue conversations in education and, hopefully, longstanding changes in how we design classrooms for meaningful, connected, and innovative learning. In May 2020, Dr. Molly Buckley-Marudas and Dr. Shelley Rose, Associate Professors at Cleveland State University, founded the Cleveland Teaching Collaborative (CTC). This interdisciplinary group of instructors and instructional support professionals from Pre-Kindergarten to Higher Education emerged as a critical rehearsal space for the future. Through case studies of teaching, monthly discussions, and curation of resources, members of Cleveland Teaching Collaborative have developed a collection of pandemic pedagogies that serve as a rehearsal for the future. This article articulates three main areas of pandemic pedagogy and our vision for critical changes in education: cross-collaboration that honors distributed expertise, prioritization of people that enacts pedagogies of care, and risk-taking that sets the stage for the #postpandemicteacher.

Introduction

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring of 2020, higher education and PK–12 schools abruptly transitioned to remote teaching and learning. In a matter of days, teachers at all levels of education were required to move face-to-face classes to remote, web-based contexts. Although instructors drew on their knowledge of the expansive existing body of research on remote teaching and learning, as well as a diverse range of educational resources, the spring 2020 transition to a remote context occurred without the benefit of additional time, training, or reflection. Without a blueprint for teaching and learning in a pandemic, teachers at all levels and in different institutional contexts hustled to find new and innovative ways to provide accessible, high-quality learning opportunities for all students. Like the Cleveland Teaching Collaborative (CTC) educators, all teachers imagined and enacted a still-evolving collection of pandemic pedagogies. Charged with tending to the pressing needs of their students, their communities, and their own families, our work with the Cleveland Teaching Collaborative has revealed that educators at all levels cultivated pedagogies of care and a culture of risk taking in their classrooms. The realities of the pandemic, from illness, death, and social isolation to increased unemployment, housing instability, and food insecurity, suggest that educators are teaching in an emergency.

We approach our work with the belief that what educators are learning during the COVID-19 era is useful for teaching and learning in this immediate moment, yet we also believe that what we learn during this crisis is critical to the future of education. In keeping with the call for this special issue, we consider: “How do we use what we’ve learned from teaching in and through an ‘emergency’ as a rehearsal for the future?” This network, the Cleveland Teaching Collaborative, was designed to bring together PK–university educators in Northeast Ohio to reflect on, write about, and discuss their individual experiences in these times. This work has implications for how educators and school administrators could create more connected, innovative, and humanizing spaces of learning in the future by normalizing pedagogies of care and supporting instructors to implement new strategies to enhance learning for all students.

Pandemic Pedagogies

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are living in a state of uncertainty and, according to Sharon Ravitch, “an indefinite state of flux.”  In this moment of uncertainty, both relational and educational, Ravitch calls for “flux pedagogy” (Ravitch 2020). Flux pedagogy answers the urgent need for a flexible and humanizing approach to education. Flux pedagogy integrates critical relational frameworks into a complex adaptive pedagogical approach that identifies and addresses lived problems as a form of radical action.” We have also seen increased attention to and extension of prepandemic scholarship on critical pedagogy and humanizing pedagogy frameworks. Both traditions center students’ lives and histories and emphasize the significance of social and cultural contexts. Likewise, scholars and practitioners have emphasized the need for culturally sustaining pedagogies (Paris 2012; Paris and Alim 2020), culturally responsive pedagogies (Ladson-Billings 1995), and trauma-informed pedagogies, all of which aim to honor and be responsive to students’ lived realities. Critical educational technology scholars (Mehta and Aguilera 2020; Shelton, Aguilera, Gleason, and Mehta 2020, 125–129) have conceptualized a “critical humanizing pedagogies” framework to center pedagogies of care and decenter educational technology. Pandemic era teaching has raised attention around pedagogies of care (Rolon-Dow 2005) that tend to the examination of power, social location and access to any other resources in a relational context and recognize that learning happens in the context of relationships.

We have also seen a call for educators to cultivate what Michael Nakkula and Andy Danilchick refer to as an “uncertainty mindset” (2020, 14–33). According to their guide, “Planning for Uncertainty: An Educator’s guide to Navigating the COVID-19 Era” an uncertainty mindset is, “a stance that encourages embracing the unknown in order to remain responsive to the needs and opportunities as they emerge” (Nakkula and Danilchick 2020, 7). The growing body of pandemic pedagogies is both necessary and helpful to educators as they work to navigate this time. With the belief that the pandemic as we currently know it will end, we wonder: what are the characteristics of a postpandemic pedagogy? What are the key attributes of what we refer to as the #postpandemicteacher? Some of the answers are found in the pandemic experiences of the CTC. Specifically, cultivating pedagogies of care and normalizing the risks we take when instructors center students and implement new strategies for remote, hybrid, and in-person learning.

The Cleveland Teaching Collaborative

With inspiration from NYU Shanghai’s Digital Teaching Toolkit (2020) and the understanding that the summer of 2020 would be a critical time for educators to reflect on, evaluate, and develop remote learning opportunities and pandemic pedagogies, we (Buckley-Marudas and Rose) launched the Cleveland Teaching Collaborative. We collected and published a diverse collection of educator-authored case studies of remote teaching and learning during the pandemic. A core aim was to provide meaningful and timely support and tools for critical, accessible, and high-quality learning opportunities for students living and learning in a highly imperfect time. We hoped that the project would provide educators at all levels, within and across different institutional contexts, the space and time necessary to reflect as a community and to make recommendations and suggestions for future teaching and learning. More than static case-studies, however, the CTC also had the goal of fostering ongoing partnerships between university and PK–12 educators.

The first cohort of authors in summer 2020 included twenty-three educators, twenty-two from the greater Cleveland area and one from Los Angeles, CA. The California-based educator came to the collaborative as a result of an existing professional relationship with a Cleveland-based educator. The content and emergence of their co-authored piece reflects the potential of cross-country collaborations and partnerships for teaching and learning. The summer 2020 cohort included a combination of elementary, secondary, and university instructors and reflected a wide range of disciplines. The cohort also included educators who teach in a mix of public, private, and parochial institutions and from urban, suburban, and rural contexts. Every educator authored a case study about their transition to pandemic era teaching and learning, focusing on the pedagogical approaches, tools, and principles they used to make their decisions, the challenges they experienced, and what lessons they learned for the future. All the case studies were reviewed by the CTC leadership team and then published to CTC’s WordPress site. The platform was chosen because it is user-friendly and able to accommodate multiple contributing authors.

A unique component of this collaborative is the living, growing “resource referatory.” The referatory is a curated collection of educational resources. It is a crowdsourced, open access collection that began with materials cited by CTC contributors. By the end of fall 2020, the referatory had grown to over two hundred entries and at the time of writing, the referatory has increased to over eight hundred entries. With the third cohort of authors preparing to submit their case studies by the end of May 2021, we know this number will continue to grow. In addition to the written case studies and growing referatory, another component of the CTC is the opportunity for contributors to participate in video-based discussion groups. We held three discussion groups during the summer of 2020 and, on request, have continued to host discussions at least once a month. In addition to the shared home of the WordPress site, we have a space in Microsoft Teams for questions, announcements, idea exchange, and shared files, and in November 2020 launched the Assignment Design Café for instructors as an informal drop-in space staffed by CTC members and campus partners via Zoom for instructors to support learning along the way.

Rehearsal for the #Postpandemicteacher

In the spirit of the call for this issue, we believe that what we learn when teaching in an emergency is critical to navigating and surviving the emergency, yet these learnings are also a rehearsal for the future. Drawing on our work with the Cleveland Teaching Collaborative, we share the ways in which we have observed how the COVID-19 pandemic has limited some of the possibilities for educator growth and reflection, and how teaching in the COVID-19 pandemic has created space for educators’ individual and collective reflection, revision, and re-imagination. In the sections that follow, we will focus on the key lessons and insights that should be leveraged for future educational work and what we refer to as the #postpandemicteacher.

Crisis scenarios tend to surface existing problems or inequities and serve as a catalyst for critical changes. Teaching through this crisis has been a catalyst for many important conversations in education and, hopefully, several longstanding changes in how we design classrooms for meaningful, connected, and innovative learning. The collective space of the CTC emerged as a critical rehearsal space for the future. By this we mean that the collective, in concept and action, became a catalyst for new ways of operating, interacting, writing, and imagining regarding what learning might look like. The collaborative was conceptualized as a space that aimed to cultivate new patterns and forms of interaction and participation and a space for expanding, not narrowing, the possibilities of when and why we interact with other educators. In the remainder of this article, we will share three specific ways that teaching in an emergency has contributed to a collection of pandemic pedagogies that serve as a rehearsal for the future and setting the stage for the #postpandemicteacher. The three ideas we offer are cross-collaboration, prioritization of people, and risk-taking.

Cross-collaboration: honor distributed expertise

One of the goals of the collaborative was to create spaces for educators to come together to connect, share, reflect, and enhance their teaching practice. Given the required social distancing and physical isolation that are part of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a need for teachers to be together and try to learn together, particularly during such an intense and demanding time. The conditions of this emergency precipitated the shift to online spaces and video calls. With this, some of the constraints tied to physical barriers, such as geographical location, buildings, and walls as well as social barriers, such as departments, roles, and affiliations were lifted. Consistent with the title of CTC members Charles Ellenbogen and Jason White’s case study, education has gained “moving walls.” For Ellenbogen and White, this meant a sustained cross-country collaboration around writing, with Ellenbogen in Cleveland and White in Los Angeles. Yet, the concept of the moving walls is similarly powerful for breaking down other walls or borders that have become deeply ingrained in the ways in which schools are organized and how ideas and information are exchanged. With the ease and accessibility of video calls, this moment could help to chip away at the existing walls dividing PK–12 educators and university educators, divisions such as discipline, department, or college affiliation within an institution, and borders we have created between different institutional roles or functions. Learning design specialist Lee Skallerup Bessette argues in her recent scholarship, the divides between instructors and instructional support staff at our institutions are both tacit, such as staff not receiving invitations to events like commencement, and explicit, like title policing (Bessette 2020; 2021; Perry 2020). The collaborative allowed university and PK–12 teachers ongoing opportunities to exchange ideas across disciplines and rank. For example, two CTC collaborators, one a part-time university instructor and one a high school teacher developed the idea for non-evaluative peer visitations.

At the institutional level, we have seen more instances of cross-functional collaboration. For example, for the first time in either of our experience at our university, we attended a meeting that included participation from tenure track faculty, part-time faculty, the instructional design center, the library, e-learning office, Blackboard support office, and our university’s center for faculty excellence in teaching. The meeting centered around a new outgrowth of the CTC called the “Assignment Design Café.” The café is structured as a drop-in opportunity for instructors, yet our staff facilitators also appreciate the space, which recognizes that regardless of position “it takes a village” to support digital teaching and learning (Bessette 2020). The café takes place on Zoom and is framed as an opportunity for participants to drop-in with an assignment, a challenge, or an idea related to their remote or web-based teaching. Although not required, all the centers and offices expressed an interest in supporting and facilitating the café. At a December session, it was powerful to listen to the range of perspectives in response to one instructor’s question about Google Forms and Microsoft Forms. Distributed expertise exists in a community in which levels of expertise vary and there is a willingness to both share and learn from that existing expertise. We benefited from the distributed expertise in the room and that many people knew different things about the platforms. Instead of one “expert” we had many knowledgeable and skilled users. In our March meeting we shared perspectives on different virtual conference platforms and started to name items that all fit on what we refer to as our “Awareness List.”  This list includes oversights, habits, and structural barriers that we, individually and collectively, have come to learn in the process of doing this work. For example, who is notified or and included in professional development opportunities and how information is distributed. This has emphasized the need to strengthen relationships between existing programs, centers, and IT personnel. The centers and supports are established on our campuses, yet they are not necessarily as integrated as possible with departments or instructors.

Instead of seeing Zoom meetings like this as an opportunity and privilege of the pandemic moment, we see this as an important lesson for the future. We know that teaching and learning improves when we can access and draw on a range and variation of diverse perspectives. When school buildings re-open, educators need to challenge and interrupt the instinct to return to the taken-for-granted ways of operating. We have seen the need to reimagine some of the systems and structures that consistently divide, rank, and sort, and, in the process, limit the benefits of cross-collaboration and distributed knowledge generation and distributions. We have used this chance as an opportunity to collaborate and work with individuals that we do not consistently see or come together with on a regular basis, yet the cross-collaborations create new opportunities for growth. How do we continue to create opportunities for educators to cross the boundaries constructed around variables including discipline, grade level, department, and teaching rank? How do we continue the practice of moving walls beyond the circumstances created by the pandemic?

Prioritization of people: enacting pedagogies of care

Pandemic teaching has reminded all of us—educators, students, parents, school leaders—that teaching and learning are deeply relational processes. One of the most critical lessons to carry forward from teaching in this global health crisis is a renewed commitment to understanding and enacting education as a human endeavor. The quality and depth of relationships with students has surfaced as an essential element of teaching in the pandemic, yet it is evident that the relational work of teaching and learning is something that must be prioritized in a postpandemic era. A theme that surfaced in nearly every CTC case study and discussion group was the pressing need to focus on relationships with students. Educators at all levels and across disciplines and institutional contexts emphasized the need to center on the students and to meet students where they were. Relatedly, many educators spoke about listening to, and regularly soliciting feedback from students outside of institutional evaluations as an important element of their pandemic teaching. Although this finding will sound familiar and may seem obvious, it became clear that these practices may not have been prioritized as much as we hoped in our prepandemic pedagogies.

Every CTC case study offered specific instructional approaches that drew on a pedagogy of care. For example, most CTC authors shared that they developed and distributed a student survey to guide their instructional approaches. According to Sophia Higginbottom, tenth-grade Language and Literature teacher and CTC author, “The first necessity was to ask students to complete a survey, which was posted into their Google Classrooms and sent via email to everyone enrolled in the course.” In Higginbottom’s essay, “Simultaneously Stimulating Autonomy and Global Citizenship: A Case Study on Education Through the COVID-19 Pandemic,” she explains that her survey focused on three areas: student access to internet and digital tools, availability for live class sessions, and students’ reflections on how they could “best learn in this new distance-learning world.”  Similarly, Lana Mobydeen, a university-based part-time instructor of political science, writes in her case study: “Once I decided to use Blackboard Collaborate, I sent a twelve-question survey via Microsoft Forms to my students regarding their internet access, preference for live or pre-recorded lectures, availability, and opinion on discussion boards. I received responses from twenty-three out of the twenty-nine students enrolled with examples of some of the responses included.”

Importantly, Mobydeen explains how she used the information from students’ responses to guide her pedagogical decisions. For example, based on preferences for live or recorded lectures, Mobydeen writes: “I decided to do live sessions and record them for students that wished to view them later. This would allow the best of both worlds for students. Whoever wanted live instruction could join via Blackboard Collaborate during our normal course time and those who could not join could view the recordings at their own pace. I did not require attendance for live sessions. I made them optional because of the impact that the pandemic had on students who might have been sick, caring for others, working, or had other issues.” This illustrates how this outreach offers an opportunity to connect with students and understand where they are. Mobydeen can then be responsive to the collected information. Mobydeen draws on a pedagogy of care in her decision-making in that she offers multiple ways to access the material and succeed in the class. John Dutton, high school science and computer science teacher, offers additional support for the value of student feedback. In “From the Tech Teacher Perspective: Distance Learning for Science, Computer Science and Fellow Educators,” Dutton writes: “Ultimately, using student feedback to consistently tailor the student experience led to improved student attitudes towards online learning.” Teachers know that student-responsive curricula improve engagement, and given that the body of evidence for effective all-school distance learning is slim, then it is critical that teachers seek student feedback on a regular basis. The parameters of this health crisis are changing daily; we must be flexible and proactive enough to seek out and respond to these rapidly evolving challenges.” The challenges of the pandemic, including the magnitude of uncertainty and unease, prompted many educators to embrace more flexibility and more care in their pedagogical approach.

Although the surveys ranged in format and frequency, the CTC authors spoke positively about what they gained from this decision. As illustrated in the examples above, authors highlighted the value of the student surveys for connecting with students in relationship to their well-being and for gaining insight into their students’ experiences in the class. Although this was not a new practice for everyone, this level and frequency of personalized, class-specific survey was new for many.

Many of the challenges that surfaced are not necessarily new, and we know that they will not go away when the pandemic ends, yet they became more challenging, more problematic, and/or more exposed during this era. For example, regarding technology, many PK–12 schools and districts were operating without a shared learning management system, making simple communication efforts and the transition to remote teaching incredibly difficult and time consuming. The moment of crisis forced us to confront what we knew, yet overlooked, about access to technology and the digital divide. At the beginning of the pandemic, many students, at all levels, lacked access to appropriate hardware for learning and reliable internet. Districts and our university scrambled to distribute laptops and hot spots to students.

In addition to individual educators adopting a humanizing pedagogy, we also noticed decisions at the institutional level that reflected a pedagogy of care. For example, offering students at the university a choice between a letter grade or pass/fail, recommendations to be flexible on deadlines, and a willingness to offer students an incomplete with additional time to complete the course. Instead of seeing these options as “easy” or “soft,” pandemic pedagogies recognize these modifications as responsive, attentive, and humanizing. They reflect an ethos of care and flexibility. Care and flexibility are imperative for teaching in a pandemic, yet these characteristics will enhance nearly any teaching and learning moment such as increasing attention to practices like ungrading (Blum 2021).

In the case of students with documented special needs, teaching in this crisis amplified the lack of existing flexibility, resources, and innovation to prioritize and support some of our state’s most vulnerable students. As Allison Welch, high school Intervention Specialist and Spanish teacher, shared in her case study, the specialized services and support for students with special needs came to a standstill and the state had no legal obligation to provide for many of the young people’s needs, exposing gaps and inequities in our current capacity to support young people in the face of disruption or extenuating circumstances. One lesson to carry forward is the recognition that many of the prepandemic teaching and learning approaches and systems were too rigid. The existing models for supporting students with special needs are not adequate for the pandemic era or, looking forward, the postpandemic era. This case highlights how existing teaching practices, along with district efforts to rely on old strategies failed students, families, and teachers. These failures exposed systemic barriers and institutional inflexibility, forcing changes in practice and increased risk taking to amend the issues.

Risk taking: setting the stage for the #postpandemicteacher

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all instructors, regardless of discipline, expertise, and experience-level. As Ravitch argues, educators transitioned courses from “specialized teaching and learning to more broadly solutionary and connective” practices (2020). All educators have content expertise, but the pandemic serves as a stark reminder of the fact that we are all experts in learning. It is as learners that educators have excelled in this moment of flux pedagogy, and it is as learners that instructors have taken risks in their pedagogies that would have seemed unimaginable prior to March 2020.

In many classrooms, remote or otherwise, a key aspect of pandemic teaching and learning is that instructors and students find themselves in an environment where the boundaries between teaching and learning blur. This is where Davidson’s call for instructors to be “human first, professor second” is an invitation to take a risk (2020). The risk is to position yourself as part of the community of learners in your course, be transparent, and share your experiences of success and failure. Instructors may not be able to understand the specific experiences of students, but we can acknowledge pandemic learning is a new environment for us as well as students. Everyone is learning something during the pandemic, from new technologies to time management, to caring for family members while teaching and learning. Systems administrator Angela Andrews articulates how instructors and instructional support staff are already equipped to teach new concepts without the traditional mantle of expertise: “We’re always explaining things to other people. This is just an extension of it.” Andrews elaborates, “It is taking a topic that we know something about. We may not be masters in it, but at least we can speak the language, and we feel comfortable enough trying to explain it” (Andrews 2018, 00:08:41). This language of pandemic teaching includes words like equity, flexibility, and experiment.

In fact, this language is a product of digital pedagogy communities of practice which have expanded exponentially during the COVID-19 crisis. Educators who were not in the habit of thinking deeply about remote or hybrid teaching found themselves thrust into a situation where they had to grapple with new practices, often those they had been exposed to in professional development sessions prior to the pandemic but never implemented, to continue as effective educators. “Diary of a Quarantined Teacher: A Seasoned Spanish Teacher Confronts a Whole New Way of Teaching” by world language teacher Sarah Schwab, and “Converse to Learn: Online Discussions to Engage Students in Remote Learning” by sociologist Marnie S. Rodriguez, both members of the CTC, reveal the commonalities in experiences between PK–12 and higher education instructors. Everyone is involved in learning. Educators are learning new communication and facilitation technologies in order to create equitable, accessible, and meaningful classroom experiences. Students are learning new modes of communication (often across several platforms) and new content related to their course and chosen academic path.

One important aspect of pandemic teaching and learning is the recognition that the world is in flux, not just for students, but for educators as well. The CTC is just one example of how the pandemic has expanded the communities of practice of educators engaged with digital pedagogy. Indeed, many educators are engaging in new practices with students that seemed untenable prior to COVID-19. As historian J. Mark Souther reflected, pandemic remote learning has the potential to be “A Bridge to Better Teaching.” Curriculum ideas and innovation that instructors have put off due to lack of development time or technology resources in past semesters now seem possible in part due to the need for alternative delivery methods and institutional investments in licenses for key applications.

The pandemic has enabled educators from diverse backgrounds, disciplines, and levels to practice taking risks in our classrooms. As instructors begin to acknowledge classrooms as filled with communities of learners and not hierarchies of expertise the future is rife with opportunity. COVID-19 has added urgency to our academic courage, yet it has also normalized trusting oneself and one’s students enough to take regular risks. Not every new idea or assignment works. In fact, this journal has an excellent section on teaching fails that began normalizing risks and their range of outcomes even before the current crisis. Now is the time for all educators to look to the future and reflect on this experience.

Thoughts Moving Forward

As the COVID-19 virus surges, teachers will continue to navigate an uncertain present and uncertain future. There is little doubt that teachers will continue to imagine innovative and humanizing ways to teach in this prolonged state of uncertainty and that the repertoire of pandemic pedagogies will keep evolving. Although it is impossible to imagine exactly what teaching and learning will look like in a postpandemic era, we believe that the success of the future requires that we pay attention to the lessons and questions in the three areas of cross-collaboration, pedagogies of care, and risk taking. From insight on promising pedagogical practices to the radical exposure of deep educational inequities, postpandemic classrooms and schools must look different than pre-pandemic classrooms. Although we may miss many aspects of school before the COVID-19 outbreak, this crisis has reminded us that pre-pandemic school was not adequate or meaningful for far too many students. It spurred instructors and staff to work through issues previously seen as too embedded in our institutions to question. Teaching through this unprecedented and unsettling time offers educators a unique opportunity to challenge some of the time-honored approaches to teaching and learning and the taken-for-granted ways of engaging students in traditional classrooms.

For us, teaching in this emergency was a catalyst to create the Cleveland Teaching Collaborative. Although we imagined that the collaborative would be a place to support the exchange and expansion of ideas, it was impossible to know exactly how the network would unfold. With the benefit of time and reflection, we now see that one of the most critical lessons to carry forward is the role and power of the collective. More specifically, the CTC opened an important space for what we have come to refer to as collective care. The collaborative prompted dialogue between and among a range of educators, instructors, instructional designers, technologists, and administrators, most of whom do not typically interact or spend professional time with one another. This created the potential for a new space and, we observed, a new version of distributed expertise and shared knowledge generation and dissemination, all with an ethos of care. In this unprecedented moment, the silos started to break down and conversations began.

For us, collective care is an emergent concept that refracts care in three ways: (1) caring for one another (e.g., as professionals, educators, humans) by being engaged in the writing, talking, thinking of this group, (2) a group that supports and works to develop pedagogies of care, and (3) a group that believes educators and educational institutions are better off when we do this work together.  While the institutional barriers between instructors, staff, and administrators remain, and will remain, after the pandemic, the conversations will continue. They are a critical step to reimagining teaching and learning in a postpandemic classroom.

As vaccines arrive and we look toward a transition from emergency pandemic teaching and learning to a new phase of education, we are reflecting on the origins of the collaborative, analyzing what we have learned from the most recent cohort of collaborators, and planning for the future of the CTC and the #postpandemicteacher. In May 2020 we received institutional support to launch and facilitate the first cohort of authors. We used these funds to purchase three years of web hosting services and pay authors an honorarium to reflect on their experiences with remote teaching and learning. Buckley-Marudas drew on existing professional networks, including her work with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, to recruit PK–12 educators. Both of us also reached out through personalized emails to invite reflections from a range of PK–12 and university collaborators. We chose to develop the blog on WordPress based on Rose’s previous experience with the platform and its ability to handle multiple authors. Designed as a collaborative, it was important that the host site could support all participants as named authors. As we began documenting open-access and crowdsourced educational resources for our members on a blog page, it quickly became clear that we needed a more robust solution to enable educators to search our links. Rose drew on her experience leading a digital humanities referatory project in her courses to build a resource referatory for our growing collection and train team members in curation of these items. Institutional support for the CTC was renewed at the start of the fall semester and we now have an institutional commitment to support new and existing CTC activities through the end of 2021. Recognizing that the collaborative was evolving from a support network for pandemic teaching to a network of dynamic educators committed to change beyond the scope of COVID-19, we applied for multiyear external funding to gather data from educators at this critical crossroads, make technical upgrades to our resource referatory, and use pandemic experiences to promote changes in education for Cleveland-area students and beyond.

We recognize that we do not yet know the implications of this prolonged time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders for students’ learning or for students’ and teachers’ social and emotional health and well-being. Yet, we close here with a few thoughts on what we think a post pandemic pedagogy and #postpandemicteacher might look like. The postpandemic teacher will be more comfortable taking risks and assuming the role of learner, see collaboration as a privilege and an opportunity for growth, and operate with the belief that teaching and learning are deeply relational processes that must be rooted in collective care. Focusing on these areas, the Cleveland Teaching Collaborative has not just become a space for reflection and support, but also a catalyst for change.

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About the Authors

Mary Frances (Molly) Buckley-Marudas is Associate Professor of Adolescent and Young Adult English Education at Cleveland State University. Buckley-Marudas teaches courses in English Education, content area literacy, and Young Adult literature and is professor-in-residence at Campus International High School. Buckley-Marudas’s research focuses on adolescent literacies, youth-led research, and teacher education. She is currently PI on a LRNG Innovator Challenge grant and Co-PI on a multi-year IES grant, both of which focus on youth participatory action research. She has published articles in Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (CITE), Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, and is a founder of the Cleveland Teaching Collaborative and recipient of the 2022 Divergent Award for Excellence in Implementation of Literacy in a Digital Age with Shelley E. Rose.

Shelley E. Rose is Associate Professor of History and Director of Social Studies at Cleveland State University. Rose teaches a range of topics from geography to world history, gender studies to European history. Her research and professional activities focus on the topics of digital humanities, protest history, European history, and gender history. She has published articles in Peace & Change and The Journal of Urban History, leads the Gender Studies Resources database project, and is a founder of the Cleveland Teaching Collaborative and recipient of the 2022 Divergent Award for Excellence in Implementation of Literacy in a Digital Age with Molly Buckley-Marudas.

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