Questions and answers with Tech faculty members Brad and Lacey Deal
Brad and Lacey Deal are the parents of two boys, Oli, 11, and Finn, 7. Brad is an associate professor in the School of Design, and Lacey is an instructor in the Department of Kinesiology. Like thousands of others who are often on the Louisiana Tech campus, this family quarantined at home this spring. Here’s a brief Q&A about how this popular quartet handled the quarter and the coronavirus crisis.
Overall, how was moving to online teaching?
LACEY: I am a little bit luckier than most teachers; I teach an online course every quarter. This prepared me with class preparation and understanding communication with students that you might not see on a regular basis. But, when your favorite part of teaching is developing relationships with your students, little can prepare you for missing them. The start of quarantine was hard. Constant emails, teaching suggestions, videos to watch, planning meetings, and the complete rearrangement of classes that require hands-on activities is not easy. All of this while receiving the same overflow of emails from our kids’ teachers. Then adding in isolation from family and friends.
The advising weeks were hard. I advise 85 students. In our department the other instructors and I usually work together and hold group advising sessions. This makes the process easier. But this quarter, we all had to work solo. Lots of Zoom meetings, emails, and texts made for a long two weeks. This then led into catching up with grading for the end of the quarter and finals preparations.
BRAD: The late nights, sunburn, sore muscles, and several hundred extra hours that I usually pour into my Spring ARCH 335 design-build studio should be an easy thing to convince someone to give up, but moving construction online has been a struggle. Staying home, of course, isn’t so difficult, but the challenges of the situation sneak up on you. They’re silent and psychological. My partner in design-build, Robert Brooks, and I re-organized this class that is so dear to us no less than three times trying to find a way forward through all the changes early in the quarter. Ultimately our students are ‘constructing’ everything—from excavation to the finish nails—individually in the digital world of their computers from home. That’s a tall order for students who haven’t been working in our 3D software long. After a few long days of answering questions, I resorted to making screen-recorded tutorials, demonstrating the tricky digital steps and narrating the logic, physical work, tools, outcomes, and the intent they all represent. The one-way communication in video format allowed our Zoom class meetings to be freeform and casual. We’d answer questions, ‘talk shop’ early, but we still had plenty of time to hear stories, jokes, tribulations, etc., and generally try to get back some small portion of the relationship-building that’s at the core of the traditional Louisiana Tech design-build experience.
On the home front, Lacey, my wife and super-instructor in the kinesiology department, and I have spent our days on Zoom meetings, phone calls, Moodle, and email. I even built her a home desk at the end of March to create enough simultaneous workstations around the house for all four of us.
How was in-home teaching of your children?
LACEY: We made sure to get up every day and make a plan for what needed to be done. The boys had a to-do list in their room to help them check off what school work needed to be done. We even added in outdoor time to create some time to get away from the screens. We would break up the day with walks around the neighborhood and chats with neighbors. This really helped us keep some normalcy.
BRAD: When we weren’t working we were pretending to be first and fifth-grade elementary school teachers to our boys. We’ve been pretty good about making ourselves get out of the house for a game of basketball with the kids in the back yard, a bike ride, or a sunset walk most days.
What’s been the silver lining?
LACEY: As we came to the end of the quarter and the end of the school year for our boys, I can say that quarantine was weighing on us. A change of routine was needed. Summer is usually a time of excitement.
As Brad finishes a long spring of design-build and the boys and I look forward to having him around more, we usually plan a big start-of-summer vacation to reset and kick off the summer. We are not sure what that will look like this year; maybe a camper in the woods with no one else around.
(Editor’s note: In early June the family pulled Lacey’s parents’ camper to Lake DeGray and then to Fayetteville for biking and hiking in the mountains while staying clear of others.)
There are moments I have felt very blessed with having a safe home, secure jobs, and healthy family, but I miss our Tech Family. I miss the students, my co-workers, and the environment that allowed me to give and receive encouraging hugs and high-fives. We can still text, call, face-time, Zoom, message, and all the other ways we communicate through technology, but when you get down to it, sometimes nothing is more encouraging than a good hug.
BRAD: To be honest, it’s been a bit of a grind. We’re looking forward to moving past the challenges of this rollercoaster quarter. The isolation and all the screen-time have taken their toll, but in the end, we’re eternally grateful for our jobs, our health, and that all of our loved ones are accounted for at a time when so many others are far less fortunate. Keep fighting the good fight.