Finding serendipity during the COVID-19 pandemic


I seem to be one of the few of my colleagues who managed to escape from remote-teaching during this COVID-19 filled spring.While everyone was hectically trying to acquaint themselves with the wonders of Zoom, Teams and the Big Blue Button, and master the tricks of online teaching, I was spending my sabbatical as a Fulbright scholar at the Department of Communication in University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC). Or rather, I was spending my spring semester locked in, in Chicago. Honestly, this was not exactly the way I had imagined my adventure of a lifetime to be.

Andra Siibak, a Professor of Media Studies. Photo credit: Andra Siibak
Andra Siibak, a Professor of Media Studies. Photo credit: Andra Siibak

But I guess one needs to find a positive side in every bad situation. Although all my public lectures and networking meetings were cancelled abruptly, I decided that one simply cannot let a good crisis go to waste. Together with my colleagues from the US, Israel and France, we set out to explore how lecturers and academics managed this abrupt change in their everyday (teaching) routines that the COVID-19 pandemic brought along. Furthermore, being internet and privacy scholars, we were all intrigued to study how people’s perceptions of privacy changed when the boundaries between work and private lives became increasingly blurred.

Conducting interviews for this comparative study with lecturers from various higher education institutions across Estonia has enabled me to gain tons of valuable insights that I can now make use of during my own remote teaching. For example, I could already make use of those tips while giving online lectures to the master students at Klaipeda State University of Applied Sciences. In short, I exercised my visiting professor duties while sitting in the middle of a pool of toys, on the floor of my children’s room.

Still, even though new media technologies enable us to connect and carry on with our lives despite the ongoing global pandemic, nothing makes me happier than seeing the faces of my students in class – 100% engaged – and actively cherishing the opportunity to mingle, discuss and learn from each other.

Andra Siibak is a Professor of Media Studies and the director of the doctoral programme in media and communication at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu. Her main field of research has to do with the opportunities and risks surrounding (young people’s) internet use and social media practices, issues related to the datafication of childhood/education/work and privacy. 

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