Past President Column: Covid and Behavioral Change

Krishna Kumar
V. Krishna Kumar, PhD

The Year 2020 has passed, but it is still very much on our minds—Covid has not left us; it continues to threaten us with mutants, limit our everyday life, and fills us with the fear of being its next casualty. The vaccinations are underway giving us some hope, but we may still be a long way from achieving herd immunity. Covid has made us even more aware that medical interventions are not sufficient for physical and/or psychological health—what is also required is behavioral change. Covid is quite different from obesity, smoking, and depression inasmuch as it is highly contagious and can take life easily or cause long-term health issues if we do not observe some simple, yet highly effective, preventive behaviors such as wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, and quarantining when needed. More than ever, psychological interventions have become standard practice in medical care.

During the pandemic, Zoom took over our work, instruction, and social life. Zoom has practically killed the joy of getting a snow day because classes can meet virtually, barring, of course, those days when we have a widespread power outage. Even for those stormy days, we may be expected to make up for lost classes by recording lectures and posting them on the campus instructional portal. In a regular semester, typically one or two students remain after class to ask you questions, make comments, share research ideas, and/or express interest in working with you; such behavior has been rare after my Zoom classes. One thing is for sure, I cover more materials on Zoom than in a regular classroom, probably because few students interact during the class, despite my efforts to engage them. Some students think that it is the instructor’s responsibility to engage the students, but it seems that the instructor can only go so far because the students are hiding behind their screens and if you call on them randomly to answer questions, sometimes there is no answer and some students simply do not like to be called upon. In a regular semester, students stop by during office hours, but few students make appointments to see me on Zoom and these appointments typically occur the week before exams. Students in my classes form study groups and help each other during a regular year—now they meet over Zoom, but I have heard it is not the same thing. Exams now are administered online and the built-in exam software allows such good features as auto-shuffling of items, random arrangement of options, auto-grading, item analysis, and immediate performance feedback. However, I do miss administering tests in class and miss students sometimes walking up to me to ask for clarifications during the test or to make me aware of a typo on the test.

The pandemic may have changed some of what we will do in our classrooms when we return to face-to-face instruction. Students may continue to expect online exams and PowerPoints and lectures posted for their later review—something that will give some students a good reason to miss classes because the materials are available online. Has Covid changed our classroom behaviors forever or we will quickly go back to our old ways of doing things once its threat is over? I wonder if we would miss the convenience of teaching from our homes when we return to face-to-face instruction.

Our annual APA convention will meet virtually again this year, the second year in a row. Although I do not have any data, my feeling is that for this year’s virtual convention, the number of international submissions has increased compared with submissions during usual face-to-face conventions in previous years. This is certainly good, but without personally interacting with the presenters, we may not be able to fully appreciate their work or make productive collaborative connections. Despite the convenience of a variety of networking tools on the internet, they do not allow us to connect fully. My colleagues and I sometimes reminisce over the phone about past conventions where we had a chance to see old friends, make new friends, meet over a drink, discuss our work, talk about our lives, exchange ideas, and renew our friendships. While the 2020 APA Convention was successful by all standards with the added advantage that all presentations are available for listening until August 2021, I do wonder how many people have logged into the APA virtual platform after the convention was over last year.

Perhaps, it is soon to tell what changes we have made will carry over to the next year, but one thing is clear from the pandemic: we need to remain open to change whatever next year brings us.

Last but not least, on behalf of our Society, I want to express my deep appreciation to Keith Cooke whose creative work as the production editor of The Amplifier Magazine over all these years brought it to new heights. It has always been a pleasure to work with Keith. Fortunately, he will consult with us as needed. Beginning this issue, I want to welcome Wade George who will be our new production editor.

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