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Maureen McLaughlin Remote Learning Endicott College

Doctoral degree student Maureen McLaughlin works on her Ed.D. in Higher Educational Leadership remotely—one of seven in her house who are distance-learning during the COVID-19 public health crisis. She hopes sharing her insight will help others in “houses doubling as classrooms.”

As a veteran from the business world looking to make the leap to higher education, McLaughlin believes the current circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic present additional challenges—and opportunities. “As we all are fully aware, these times have both immediate and long-term implications,” says McLaughlin. “Being a part of this unprecedented time in higher education is a chance to undertake novel approaches while preserving the traditions that have well-served our students, community, and society at large.”

McLaughlin and her children recently appeared on an EdSurge podcast, “When 7 Family Members Continue Their Studies While Sheltered In Place.” The podcast discusses how McLaughlin’s house in Massachusetts is suddenly brimming with seven remote learners from high school through college, all trying to stay on top of their studies while their schools or colleges are closed. This “accidental experiment” reveals how different students are reacting to emergency, remote instruction.

In the podcast, McLaughlin comments that it was interesting to watch her kids’ reaction to remote instruction and learn how each college is approaching this new territory differently. She and her children are also experiencing the emotional toll associated with abruptly losing friends, leaving personal items at school, and the cancellation of graduation and sport seasons. Especially for younger students, these hard changes make it difficult to focus on distance learning.

Learners at all levels are experiencing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. How does a doctoral student manage in this climate? What advice would a doctoral student have for others learning from home? McLaughlin answered some questions about this and more.

How can doctoral students successfully conduct research and learn while others in the house are also learning or working remotely?

Communication is key. We have heard this a million times, yet it is underrated as it pertains to those close to us. During these unprecedented times, this especially holds true and communication with family members remains of the utmost importance. Alongside communication, coordination involves setting boundaries, asking for help, and not sweating the small stuff, aid in supporting research efforts. Make it clear when you are available and when you are not. This goes for everyone. A helpful chart on the fridge can be an easy low-tech way to support communication. There are no ‘10s’ in this world. Sometimes an ‘8.5’ is OK.

What do you take away from your personal experiences that is applicable to your doctoral program in higher education leadership? Did you learn anything from the Ed.D. program that is assisting you in your unique at-home learning situation?

The current situation has made it even more evident that delineating professional, educational, and personal interests and efforts, does a disservice to each area and to those we seek to serve. More often than not, it is the questions that are more valuable than the answers. Part of our program is developing scholarly habits that include research and writing. At home, saying, ‘I don’t know’ is an ok thing to do. It gives permission for others to not feel they need to have all the answers. And that opens the door for partnership, for exploring together, for trying and failing, (over and over, if necessary)—trying despite the chance we may fail.

This is an important way to model and foster the development of resilient skills, which applies to our Ed. D. program as well. Ultimately, it is the questions that drive the exploration of uncharted territory and that contribute to field scholarship. Even answers which begin with, ‘I don’t know,’ serve as productive conduits for innovation, learning, and partnership. I began this program under a completely different set of circumstances with the hopes of bringing my high-tech business experiences and skill set to higher education.

I obviously had no idea that a pandemic would ensue, or that COVID-19 would become a catalyst for expanding this opportunity. This applies to the partnerships between teachers and students or administrators and students as well. To quote Tim Collins (author of Good to Great): reject the ‘Tyranny of the OR’ and embrace the ‘Genius of the AND.’ As we move forward, the importance of ‘in partnership with’ remains fundamental to my doctoral pursuit and beyond.

What are your top recommendations for those who are in a master’s or doctoral degree online program?

My top recommendations fall into three general buckets. We learn through connection: keeping this in view helps maintain momentum. Reaching out can be challenging, so start small. You never know what might happen, as I quickly found out with the podcast episode and Endicott College website feature.

Where attention goes, energy flows. Or where energy goes, attention flows. Set up your environment such that it helps guide you toward your goals (for the day, week, month, etc.). Make your goals known to your fellow classmates, program administrators, and instructors. When others are made aware of your goals, they can help you get there, and this opens opportunities for collaboration and reciprocity—fundamental in academic scholarship.

Lastly, approach self-care as an integrated component of your day, rather than a box to check off on your to-do-list. Whatever that means to you (for me, something as simple as standing in front of a sunny window and taking three slow deep breaths does wonders), strive for clarity and equilibrium in daily life.

During the struggles associated with COVID-19, this advice is applicable to so many learners, workers, and others. “Connections, collaboration, and community are so important for successful distance learning,” says Executive Director of Leadership & Professional Education Dr. Lynne Celli, who runs the higher education leadership doctoral program. “Our program was built with online collaboration and remote research in mind, so we are able to respond well to the challenges of this pandemic, while simultaneously adapting to new considerations.”

McLaughlin says, “I feel very fortunate to be a part of the Endicott community. The instructors, directors, and especially the compassionate support staff in the Writing Center have enriched my experience and facilitated collaboration. Much gratitude!”