Catching the Blue Light

Azra Mahmood
Communication Faculty, South Mountain Community College

Azra Mahmood was grading papers at an airport on March 11th, when she read her email for the first time in days. She was heading home from Florida, where she’d spent the first half of Spring Break visiting her sister and a newborn niece. When she read that Spring Break was extended for another week on account of COVID-19, all she could think about was getting home. She made it home, and a few days later realized that her teaching life had completely changed.

Azra refers to the week of March 16th as the “Five Critical Days.” Within a working week, she converted all of her face-to-face classes to online. In that short time, she learned to flip her classroom, figured out how to run Google Hangout Meets, surveyed every single student, and managed to become even more comfortable with Canvas. One of the classes Azra teaches is COM110: Interpersonal Communication. Anyone who’s ever met Azra knows that this is a perfect fit for her personality and style. She’s a known hugger who fosters a sense a family in her classroom. The move to online has been hard for her and her students.

Azra pinpoints the watershed day.

Hoping to reach out to her students, Azra sent photos out to students of her family attempting to establish a sense of normalcy. She sent out a 5-question survey, asking if they were able to connect virtually, and offering additional one-on-one support via Google Hangout Meet or Zoom. She kept careful track of which students had or hadn’t been engaged in Canvas. The students who hadn’t been on Canvas since Spring Break gave her worry, so she sent personal messages to them directly. She kept the conversations casual: “Just checking on you. Are you OK?” Every single student responded.

Azra details how she reached out to individual students.

Azra’s optimism shines through in this bizarre historical moment. She worked directly with SMCC’s Center for Teaching and Learning to establish a purposeful, urgent game plan before campus closed. She got accustomed to Zoom and Google Hangouts through attending meetings and trying out what worked best for her.

To maintain a sense of normalcy, Azra suggests we still our minds and exercise our bodies. In a historical moment where we are constantly relying on technology to stay at work and present, it’s vital that we move with intention and find ways to settle our brains.

For years, Azra has appreciated the “blue light” that occurs in the morning, right before dawn. In her first few days of working from home, Azra caught a glimpse of the “blue light” around twilight. Before this moment, she never realized she could catch the “blue light” twice a day.

Azra describes an unexpected blessing.

You can connect with Azra:
Email: azra.mahmood@southmountaincc.edu
Instagram: @2exotic

By Summer Cherland 

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