Gheni Platenburg is gardening, planning a wedding, spending time with her fiance and dogs during this coronavirus pandemic, but she is also still teaching.
Every morning she wakes up, takes some time for herself and then hops into an incredibly busy day — despite being stuck in her home.
Between teaching classes and continuing her research, Platenburg hasn’t found a lot of time for the hobbies everyone else is taking up.
A new wrinkle
Platenburg teaches journalism to students at Auburn University. Some of her classes are being held synchronously, meaning all students log on at the same time and watch Platenburg teach. Another one of her classes is held asynchronously — she uploads the material and students view it at their leisure.
Virtual teaching is not new to Platenburg; throughout her career as a professor, technology has been on the rise.
This situation, with the coronavirus pandemic, however, is completely new, with unique challenges.
A lot of things were originally up the air, especially where the university was concerned, she said. Auburn hadn’t yet decided on what would happen when students returned from spring break.
Platenburg heard the rumors and the whisperings from colleagues and before spring break had ended, she was back at the university, learning how to teach her classes remotely.
“I have taught online classes before and so that was not a stretch for me, but the short time frame in which I had to try to transform classes from a face-to-face to an online platform, that is where the challenge lay,” she said.
One of her classes, solutions journalism, involved students meeting with a community member, with each other and with officials in the city.
That is obviously not possible anymore, Platenburg said, but she and her students are finding other ways to make things work.
“That class was never designed to be online,” she said. “It was very much so designed to be a community-oriented course.”
Around the nation
Many of her students, after they left Auburn, went home to be with families. For some, that meant a two-hour drive to Birmingham. For others, it meant hours of driving or a plane ride to California.
Some students have begun working again, or are perhaps in different time zones. Platenburg has to take all of this into account when making assignments and teaching her classes.
“She’s made everything as easy as she possibly could,” said Kelis McGhee, one of Platenburg’s news-writing student. “She has always communicated with us how the class is going to be.”
Rebekah Lusk, another student, said that being able to continue classes has shown how important scholastics is to the university.
“In all of this, I can still do schoolwork, I can still be learning and taking steps toward my future and what I want to do and that kind of helps give a sense of stability,” she said.
Sports have been canceled, performances canceled, events canceled, but academics continues on, Lusk said.
Platenburg reiterated what many journalists would echo. The news goes on. Her classes must continue.
“I’m used to rolling with the punches, and that’s something I want to impart upon them,” she said. “The show still goes on, the news still prints.”
Holding office hours
Platenburg’s office hours include being available by email and doing what she can to help make this time easier for her students, she said.
Many of her students “show up” to class in pajamas, still in bed, or chilling on the couch. But what’s important is that they still attended, she said.
“A lot of my students have still shown up and I think that’s a win,” she said.
Platenburg, like her students, is doing all her work from home.
Her fiancé has always worked from home, so he’s used to the home routine, but it’s something to which she is still getting accustomed.
Before she even wakes up, her inbox is full, Platenburg said. Between the students and administrators who reach out, her day is filled with emails.
Whether she sits out on her front porch, or works from inside her office, there is lots to do. Outside of teaching, there is grading to be done and continuing her research, she said.
Platenburg’s research is focused on race and media, black identity in media, which is largely based on in-person interactions.
“This whole corona, and shutdown and going online, has impeded our ability to really do that (research) successfully,” she said.
There are rumors and rumblings that tenured faculty members may be able to postpone their research during the pandemic.
“I think that would be of help to those of us who particularly do qualitative research, or just any kind of research that involves interacting with people,” she said.
Planning a wedding
Despite all the work that needs to be done, Platenburg said she is careful not to spend all of her day working.
“I’ve been really diligent about trying to not make my whole day about work, just because I am working from home,” she said.
Platenburg’s wedding is set for October, so right now, there is no fear of that being canceled or postponed.
Outside of planning her wedding, she has two dogs to give attention to as well as her garden.
Of course, there are always bright spots, even in the middle of a pandemic.
For Platenburg, her strawberries are flourishing.