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Regular version of the site

Life, Teaching, and Scholarship in Quarantine

Illustration: Icons8 Vector Creator

Arnab Roy Chowdhury, Assistant Professor at the School of Sociology, reflects on changes in life and teaching due to lockdown.


Arnab Roy Chowdhury

This period of quarantine is unlike any other experience I have ever had. The year had been well planned academically, but almost all the conferences, workshops, and seminars I planned to participate in have been postponed indefinitely or cancelled.

Staying and working at home have never been a problem, but now the enforced nature of it seems to be unbearable at times.

I am getting bored more easily than before; I do not enjoy listening to songs, watching movies online, and sometimes cooking delicacies as I used to earlier, as those were pastimes, but now it has become life itself!  Sometimes I talk to friends and family over the phone, really long conversations I missed earlier.

I get less sleep at night because my daytime life is sedentary and I have much less physical activity, though I have managed to add a little bit of free-hand exercise every other day. So, having much energy but nothing to do except repetitive tasks is discomfiting.

Fortunately, books are there, and I am reading and writing more than before – two of the things that keep me focused, calm, and grounded and nurture me.

Also, I am reviewing a PhD thesis, supervising MA students who are writing their thesis and submitting in a few months, and peer-reviewing papers for journals. This work keeps me busy and going.

Teaching Online: Careful Planning Is Key

This is my first online teaching experience. I teach half of an undergraduate course on sociological reasoning; the other half has been already taught by my colleague Lili Di Puppo, offline.

Planning was difficult because I needed to make my half of the course as interesting as the first half, while delivering it fully online. I split the course into four long sessions, each lasting four-and-a-half hours.

It is a small class of 10­–12 students, and I am using Microsoft Teams. It is a really useful, easy-to-use application, and it worked pretty well with an ordinary headphone and a laptop. But, still, organising the class took a lot of planning.

Before the course started, I was rather tense about several issues—logistics, such as software, hardware, and the internet; voice modulation (I think I need to still work on that a bit); and writing (chat) and speaking in turns.

Before I began teaching, I made initial video calls to all of my students. Once we could see each other, I requested them to mute their camera and microphone during the class and switch their microphone on during the seminar. The call dropped twice during the class, and I switched off my camera at their suggestion.The class went smoothly afterwards, and we took a 10-minute break after each class. In one of the sessions students made group presentations.

During the seminar I took attendance, and asked my students to introduce themselves one by one, and then they asked me questions about the class, course, and evaluation. One or two students had a bit of a problem connecting their microphone, so they turned to using the chat function.

The students have been very nice, kind, accommodating, and mature, and they are quite adept at using MS Teams and so, overall, the two sessions went smoothly.

I understood that I need to plan the class rigorously, so I emailed the students detailed, step-by-step instructions for every session on PowerPoint slides. I made my slides as informative as possible. I regularly email the group and keep in touch with the whole class proactively.

One crucial thing I learnt is that online, I need to keep calm, speak slowly and enunciate clearly, and keep the environment genial and stress free.

For a few days of the quarantine I was disoriented, and re-planning my academic year took a few days, as did overcoming my initial apprehension at teaching online.I had never thought online classes can be interesting to teach or to listen to, but now I am comfortable taking a class online, though I still think offline classes are much better. I have more classes to teach this module, and I hope we can return to offline classes in a few months.

Author: Arnab Roy Chowdhury, April 23