Today we welcome guest author, Pamela D. Williams from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Pamela’s experience saving a baby bird is analogous to how we jumped in and provided emergency remote teaching during the pandemic and the lessons that follow. Thank you for sharing this uplifting blog Pamela!

It was the Fourth of July, 2020, during the Pandemic, and I was making waffles for my family. I love making waffles for them and, although weekday mornings are so hectic and I promise to make waffles on the weekend, I normally sleep in on weekend mornings. This morning was different though—there would be waffles!

Suddenly, my husband bounded into the kitchen and our beagle, Bart, was howling right behind him.

“A snake is eating the baby birds in that bush!” he exclaimed and then rushed off to get dressed. While still in my bathrobe, I grabbed the broom, went out the back door, and went straight to the bush. I spooked the snake, and it dropped a hatchling from his mouth and slithered away. The waffles would have to wait.

Saving the Baby Bird

We drove the three remaining baby birds to an animal organization and hoped for the best. On the way home, our precocious daughter asked us several questions about the ethics of predators eating defenseless babies. I chuckled a little to myself. She clearly hadn’t reflected on the origins of the cheeseburgers and sausages we’d be grilling for dinner.

Baby birds in a nest.
Photo Credit: Pamela D. Williams, 2020.

After dropping off the birds, Fourth of July 2020 became just another unremarkable holiday. I hadn’t thought much about it until a short letter from the animal rescue organization arrived a few weeks later. They thanked us for intervening on the baby birds’ behalf and shared that, due to our collective efforts, one had survived. Only one survived. I am not sure what outcome would have been acceptable to me at that moment. As I reflect on that experience, I can say now that survival for one was enough. In a situation where nature was literally taking its course, it was worth it if my intervention, however small, made a difference for just one hatchling. Ordinarily, I would run from snakes, but that circumstance required me to suspend my fear out of concern for the baby birds. I still don’t like snakes and it seems reasonable for me to go back to my former strategy of avoidance. However, that’s hard to do when I know I have the capacity to do otherwise. My swift intervention mattered to those baby birds, just like it would my students. This is a lesson I learned once again during the rapid transition to online instruction during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Responding to the Crisis with Care

Consider the COVID-19 Pandemic and the rapid transition we all made to online instruction, and what it required of us. The required Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) wasn’t just for the birds, it was for our students. While it still matters, in the early stages of the pandemic, our intervention and responsiveness were critical for our students. As faculty and instructional allies, we rose to the occasion and worked diligently to address challenges that came our way using the internet, mobile devices, computers, laptops, learning management systems (LMS), apps, mail, and Zoom (we will never forget Zoom!).

For those of us who liked teaching online and plan to continue doing so, it makes sense to ensure ERT courses have completely transitioned to online courses by reaching out to our campus’ instructional design and faculty development resources. For those of us who hated ERT, that’s okay too. Armed with the essentials of ERT, when the next variant arrives, we can prepare ourselves knowing that we have done it before.

But, where do we go from here? We grabbed the broom, and intervened when the pandemic seemingly caused, but actually unmasked, struggles that had been there long before. Snakes eat baby birds, but my intervention mattered for that one who survived, just like it would matter for the one (or more) students whom I helped. When we know our capacity to intervene on our students’ behalf, we can then consider making long-term changes to our courses and advocating for systemic changes at our institution.

How Can We Apply These Changes?

In courses, these changes might include:

  • Reviewing your course policies on late work, re-submissions, and attendance.
  • Explaining the rationale behind your course policies and penalties.
  • Recording lectures or providing equivalent content for students.

On the institutional level, these changes might include:

  • Ensuring academic policies avoid legal jargon and are clearly stated.
  • Providing students with tools to evaluate course syllabi, quality, and compatibility during the drop/add period.

I am sure some of your ERT experiences could enhance the learning experience for generations of students, so what are you waiting for? Each one of us has the capacity to intervene and advocate for our students, just like I did it for the baby birds.

Pamela D. Williams

Instructional Designer, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville


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