A unique perspective of the past four months comes from students in the photojournalism course taught by Robin Hoecker, assistant professor at DePaul University. Through camera lenses and cracked mobile phone screens, students share amazing personal stories and insights about this surreal moment in time.

Robin’s impromptu shift to fully online teaching powerfully demonstrates how a picture is worth a thousand words. Equally powerful are her words describing the course and challenges faced by her students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Do yourself a favor by reading Student Reflections of a World in Crisis.

While I sensed my students had a lot on their minds during the spring term, Robin’s students provide eye-opening insights about this frustrating and stressful time. Her experience and observations offer insights for other educators who are planning fall courses that they want to be both timely and relevant.

“I’ve had professors— whom I’ve never met— tell me they cried reading it,” Robin told me. “I think the combination of photographs, quotes and text is really powerful.

“Since I teach photojournalism, this was a chance to use my skills to help the students tell their stories, and mine as well,” she explained. “It was like making a quilt from the scraps of students’ assignments from the quarter.”

Robin wisely realized it was important to document what students and their families were going through during spring 2020. “It brings up a lot of important issues— like internet access, mental health, financial support, and work-life balance– that we have to consider as well get closer to fall.”

Because of her experience during the spring term, Robin has become an advocate for trauma-informed teaching, which involves “examining the influence and impact on students in our schools of factors such as racism (explicit, implicit, and systematic; and microaggressions) as well as poverty, peer victimization, community violence, and bullying,” according to Edutopia.

In her recap, Robin explains five other essential elements she plans to emphasize in her fall courses:

  • Give students an opportunity to tell you what’s going on in their lives.
  • Maintain clear lines of communication
  • Know what resources are available for students
  • Collaborate with other educators. In additional to engaging with colleagues, she recommends online educational communities such as the visual educators group on Facebook
  • Teach about systems of oppression

Thanks, Robin, for demonstrating the sort of agility, creativity, perseverance and empathy that all faculty and students should tap as they approach college this fall.

Robin Hoecker, Ph.D., teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in photojournalism and mass communication in the College of Communication at DePaul University.