During lockdown, pharmacy lecturer and researcher Josephine Omose Ofeimun from Nigeria started up a chat group to help students stay connected, discuss concerns and develop new skills. She explains how and why.
Before ever the lockdown was announced in my country, my institution was already on partial closure with minimal academic activity in readiness for a sports festival that was to take place sometime late March into April.
With the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic and a nationwide lockdown announced, there was a need to adjust plans and schedules. The first few weeks were spent writing up some research work that had been carried out earlier for publication. I soon discovered that was not enough as there was still much time left in my hands. I had already factored in family times and getting supplies for the family. I did some online searches and found some bodies that were conducting webinars and online programmes relevant to my area of research and personal development goals. I registered for these, even though I know it was going to cost me in terms of data charges. But I was determined to do something worthwhile with the time available to me.
Along the line, I started a chat group on WhatsApp with some of my students whose major complaint was that they were bored and tired of staying at home doing nothing. I introduced the idea and they were quick to buy into it. In fact, many of them have invited their friends to join the group. We started out as 53 members in the group but now there are 134.
We have had online discussions on some contemporary issues that affect them as young persons/adults and new topics are still being discussed. I invited my old coursemates in Pharmacy School to write inspiring stories about themselves on how they survived in "Pharmacy School". Two of them have responded and I hope to share their stories on the platform.
Equally, one of the students has requested that I do a write-up on mental health with particular emphasis on depression; while I understand that is not my domain, I have identified a mental health practitioner to help do the write-up. I hope to also add her to the platform when we have to discuss the issue. We have discussed the issue of rape earlier and how best to avoid being a victim, following the gang-rape and murder of a female student of the University of Benin during this lockdown period.
I try to be as open as possible and non-judgemental so they can feel safe and free to talk and share.
In June we challenged ourselves to research on time management and submit write ups on the topic based on their understanding. We had a total of 19 entries sent in for the writing challenge on time management were evaluated, and the best in terms of laid down criteria was chosen. The writer was gifted 5 Gig data as an incentive and to motivate her to do more. After evaluation, all entries were posted on the platform. The other 18 writers were gifted between 1.5 and 2.0 Gig data. My little way of encouraging them and appreciating them for sending in their entries.
Three volunteers were selected from the group on first indication basis to review and summarise all the entries so we could have take-home points from the entire exercise. Thereafter, I hope to come in and make my input with regards to my observation about the whole exercise. For example, some persons exceeded the word limit, while some others submitted after the deadline. I hope to let them know the implication of such an attitude to any assignment.
We have now moved on from the writing challenge although we still return to it from time to time. For example, some have expressed difficulty in following some of the points we agreed on can help. Right now, we share practical ways to manage time, based on individual experiences. (The idea in the first place was to make what we learn practical and a useful life tool).
We have in the past few weeks also included a session on building our vocabulary by adding 10 not so common words (Wabi-Sabi, Musings, Shenanigans, Parody, Gaslighting, Phoney, Traction, Flustered, Ace, Lampoon). They are to find the meaning of each word and try to make at least five sentences with each looking at different context.
What has helped me most this COVID-19 period was the quick realization that there is no excuse for wasting time as I consider “time” an investment which if well utilized will yield its dividend at the end of the day. There has been the temptation to “laze” around and just watch each day come and go without any solid plan. But then, I also see the period of the lockdown as a gift of time, the type we may never get very shortly whenever we do come out of this pandemic. These activities have kept me very busy beyond what I bargain for, but I am not complaining as I see myself covering a gap and reaching out a hand beyond the pandemic to positively engage these students.
I miss my work in the lab. I also miss being in class with my students and having face time with them. With the reported number of the coronavirus infections in the country see-sawing up and down daily, one can only pray and hope for an end to the lockdown soonest. Even so, one thing is definite, and that is this new normal is going to be with us for quite some time.
Josephine Omose Ofeimun is a Lecturer and Researcher in the Department of Pharmacognosy, Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria. She can be found on twitter at @Josephineofeim1 and ORCID.