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Sustaining our community through the pandemic

Published September 8, 2020

The world is changing, and we’re all trying to adapt to survive, even thrive, in the new normal. This is the first of three messages about how LSC aims to support a community that is pandemic-proof, anti-racist, and sustainable over the next 2 years or so. This one is about the pandemic.

Many of us are really struggling right now. The health and safety of our friends and family are at the front of our minds. Some of us are experiencing anxiety and depression, isolated from support systems. Some are managing childcare and homeschooling, working longer hours but feeling less productive. We recognize and appreciate all you’re doing to keep yourselves and your departments and research groups afloat. 

COMMUNITY. We have all invested in building a strong, broad language community at UMD over many years, and we’re worried it could erode while we’re physically distant. That’s not a problem that we can solve with pandemic logistics alone. We have to find new ways to stay connected that suit our current circumstances.

Like everybody else, we’re watching anxiously to see what the next couple of weeks will bring as College Park gets busier. But it’s increasingly clear that a return to “normal” is 1-2 years away. We need to take steps now to ensure that our community is still here 2 years from now. For many of our students, that is a huge chunk of their time with us.

We’re thankful to everyone who has completed our recent survey. Most people have said they’re planning to be on campus rarely or never. But most also want more interaction with students and faculty within and beyond their home department. We all miss the opportunities to bump into people in the office or the LSLT lunch line and have an interesting conversation. It’s impossible to replicate those spontaneous interactions while we’re physically distant.

At first, it seemed like the best parallel to a room or office full of people is a Zoom room full of people. But by now we’ve all realized that that doesn’t work. A physical room is a venue where many conversations can take place in parallel; a Zoom room is more like a stage. It's counterintuitive, but the feeling of a large community actually comes from having many small-scale interactions with a diverse range of people. The difficulty of doing that online is that we have to formally arrange those interactions, because they can’t happen organically. To maintain the relationships that constitute our community, we have to put it on our calendars and choose to do it. 

What the LSC can do is facilitate opportunities for you to engage with peers and colleagues in small ways. We’re still going to hold weekly online LSLTs, though we’ll shake up the format. But we’re also looking to create lots of opportunities for small scale interactions, like pre-LSLT “chat roulette”, peer feedback pairs, discussion groups, a gather.town poster session, virtual game nights, or an outdoor social meetup.

What will make this work  is a “joiner” and “convener” attitude from community members. We hope you will make time in your schedule to participate, and help keep the community going by turning those opportunities into more opportunities. Convene your own discussions, working groups, and social gatherings, and let us know when we can help. 

SPACE. The LSC space in HJ Patterson Hall is an invaluable community resource: central, new HVAC and air circulation, and great for social distancing. Our aim is to make it as useful as possible while limiting density and giving transparent information to users. 

The building is unlocked during the day. The LSC space is accessible via swipe card (fill out this form if you need access). One weekly in person class (PULSAR) is scheduled for the hub, and an ARLIS research study aims to resume part-time in the testing rooms. We have well-ventilated office spaces that are available if it increases your productivity, and larger rooms that can be used for socially distanced meetings, with A/V to allow others to join remotely. For everyone’s safety, please contact us in advance if you’d like to use the space for yourself or a group. We need to provide guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting, and make everyone is well informed about who is using the space when. You can email us at lsc@umd.edu, or use the LSC Space Request Form.

PEOPLE. LSC personnel are available and eager to help.

One extra impact of the pandemic is that staff are stretched very thin due to the hiring freeze. Caitlin Eaves is just 40% with LSC this semester, as she’s covering an open position in the Dept of Communication. So please provide extra notice if you’ll need her help. Questions about purchasing or graduate student issues are best directed to Shevaun Lewis right now. Tess Wood is 60% with LSC as she is also working on some research projects at ARLIS.

  • Caitlin Eaves is working primarily from home, but is occasionally in the office. Most days she is working 8am - 4pm. The best way to reach her is via email (ceaves@umd.edu), phone (301-405-0763), or by scheduling a meeting with her.
  • Shevaun Lewis is working primarily from home, generally 9am-5pm. You can reach her by email (shevaun@umd.edu), or by booking a “drop-in” meeting. 

  • Tess Wood is working primarily from home but will be on campus 1 or 2 days a week. You can reach her most easily by email (ewood1@umd.edu).

  • Colin Phillips is dividing time between home and campus, and is happy to meet online or in person, especially outdoors. Drop an email (colin@umd.edu). Walk-ins are hard to predict, but “walk arounds” are encouraged. 

RESEARCH AND TEACHING. The pandemic has already shaped the language science community’s research and teaching in many ways.

  • Rochelle Newman (HESP), with support from LSC, has been leading an interdisciplinary research discussion group on video-based communication. How does Zoom change how we use language and other communicative behaviors? How does it impact children’s learning, telehealth, or routine work meetings? If you’re interested in getting involved, contact Rochelle (rnewman1@umd.edu) or Shevaun (shevaun@umd.edu). 

  • LSC coordinated a Teaching Innovation Grant to support the creation of shared online learning modules that could be used across courses in diverse departments. A team led by Michelle Morrison (LSC/ARLIS), Tonia Bleam (LING) and Peggy Antonisse (LING) was busy throughout the summer.

  • Limits on international travel mean that we must drastically change our approach to the Guatemala Field Station. Stay tuned for developments!

  • Many students and faculty are adapting their research to online settings, some of them supported by LSC mini-grants. We’ll feature some of them in an LSLT session on September 10th.

  • Michelle Morrison (LSC/ARLIS) and Tess Wood (LSC) are using the global spread of COVID-19 news to research the spread of health (mis)information in majority vs minority languages in the US. 

  • Yi Ting Huang (HESP), Joshua Hartshorne (Boston College) and a team of students have launched the KidTalk Scrapbook project with support from an NSF RAPID grant. They’re recruiting families to contribute recordings of their children’s speech, and investigate the impact of COVID-19 policy decisions on children's language development. 

  • Philip Resnik is leading an NSF RAPID grant on developing methods to more easily and effectively analyze text responses in open-ended survey questions, which is particularly important for institutions making pandemic-related policy decisions.

Please let us know how your research and teaching have been affected by the pandemic. We would love to share your story, or help you find support or resources.

We look forward to seeing many of you on Zoom or in person (safely)!