Cristina Zaccarini, PhD, associate professor, explains how she has adapted to online teaching—and how mindfulness practices have helped her do that.
Cristina Zaccarini, PhD, is an associate professor of history and co-director of the Asian studies program. She teaches such courses as Gender in Modern China and First-Year Seminar: Mindfulness and the Study of History. Her research interests include spiritualism and spirituality and U.S.–China relations. Yet she embraced technology and online teaching, even before campus closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and the remainder of classes for the spring semester officially moved online.
Here, she shares her thoughts on supporting students, how Adelphi helped prepare her for teaching online, the importance of meeting students’ needs in the online format and how mindfulness has helped her adapt to the new normal.
How prepared were you to move classes online?
I feel I was well prepared, thanks to President Riordan’s proactive leadership at this extraordinarily challenging time. After hearing the president at the semester’s first full faculty meeting, I felt much more confident about the direction the University was taking. Her potential scenarios and strategies made sense and she conveyed them in a way that made me feel that we as a University would come out stronger as a result. I spent time researching the situation abroad, as a result of the administration’s warnings, and held my classes on Zoom early on.
How are you doing with using Zoom?
I am getting better and better at Zoom thanks to the awesome work of [Faculty Center for Professional Excellence (FCPE) director] Nathalie Zarisfi’s crew, especially Ryan Sobeck [instructional designer], who spent so much time with me this past year. Ryan helped me design my courses so that the transition to online teaching was relatively smooth for me. The students who staff the [Office] of Information Technology‘s Help Desk have been incredibly dedicated and committed to solving all problems.
Have you experienced any challenges with conducting classes online?
Some students told me that they are enjoying the Zoom classes more because they find it easier to focus with fewer distractions at home. I worry about the students who may not have internet access or be able to find a place without distractions during my synchronous classes. I see sometimes that they look quite distraught if another family member walks by during our Zoom class. The option of disabling their image on video helps with that, and I learned that flexibility and understanding are truly necessary in this situation.
Have your class syllabuses changed?
No, with the exception being the shift to take-home exams, which I had not planned on using. However, I’m finding that my take-home exams are more effective and thought-provoking than my in-class exams had been. I love that, by making this change, I can guide students into higher-level thinking through use of more sophisticated questions. They continue to rise to the occasion and continue to do so. My continuity of learning strategies are very much shaped by their responses to my questions regarding what they need.
Have your students successfully adjusted to the online environment?
My students tell me that they have, in general, transitioned well. I think this reflects how Adelphi leadership prepared in advance.
Tell us about your mindfulness seminar.
In addition to academic classes, I also teach—and practice—Koru Mindfulness. It teaches how to accept situations as they are and practice gratitude. It’s led to insights that now inform my teaching practice.
For instance, mindfulness teaches us that we should accept what we cannot control, and is particularly helpful in the current situation of social distancing. It has helped me focus on what I can control and on better meeting students’ needs online.
It has also led me to be grateful for the help that I and my students have received from the University during this challenging time.
And teaching online has helped me develop teaching practices that I will use even when we return to in-person classes.
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