A&S professor's video goes viral

November 2, 2020 by Sean McNeely - A&S News

An English professor is almost at a loss for words at the popularity of his 25-second video that went viral.

Adam Hammond, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of English, was the star of a short TikTok video where he opened his online lecture by introducing his cat, Wendy, to his class and wishing her a happy tenth birthday.

Samantha Chan, who shot and posted the video, had somewhat of an emotional reaction to Wendy’s appearance and special day.

“I was trying to share this pure moment with my friends on TikTok,” says Chan, a second-year student in the life science program and a member of University College. “This was so unexpected!

“The TikTok was made to tell everyone that professors are human too, they are trying to adjust to the new changes and sometimes they share adorable moments to help us adapt.”

The video, posted October 17, clearly struck a chord with 734,000 views, 200,000 likes, and 5,300 shares and counting. It offered a lighter moment in what’s been a challenging year for students and professors because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s fantastic, I think it's wonderful,” says Hammond. “I've seen it and it's touching and very human, which I think is such a nice element these days.”

Adam Hammond’s holding his cat.

Adam Hammond’s TikTok video, posted by Samantha Chan, has more than 734,000 views.

Soon after the video was posted, Hammond was perplexed at its popularity.

“Is it that my cat is cute? Is it the student’s reaction? Is it the weird shirt I'm wearing? I needed to figure it out, so I asked my former students who use TikTok,” he says.

“One student said, ‘Here's the deal: she represents your average student who is going to yet another online class and feeling isolated and shut in her room. And then out of nowhere, comes this extremely sweet moment where the barriers are lowered. She can relate to it personally and feels a moment of joy in this really unexpected way. And so the floodgates go down and she overreacts to what is a very simple moment.’”

That made perfect sense to Hammond. “It's dreary, it's alienating, people feel cut off by online learning, you're really missing the human element. So I'm doing everything I can to try to make it a personal experience.”

That includes tours of his living space and showing his students how he’s is coping under difficult conditions.

“I think a lot of students wonder what professors do after class. They can't imagine it — but we’re at home, too.

“When we went into lockdown, I invited the students over to my house for an end of term virtual party, and it was like a barrier broke down. They got to see me and my natural environment,” he says.

Hammond also sometimes breaks up his online lectures with what he calls “cute breaks” —  that could mean more visits from Wendy or other glimpses into his day-to-day life.

headshot of Samantha Chan
Samantha Chan hopes her video continues to spread and that its positive message of empathy for both instructors and students reaches an even larger audience.

“I would talk about a record I was into or a movie I'd seen, just to make it more human and to break down the hierarchy a little,” he says. “I’m just trying to keep in mind what students are going through.”

For his larger classes, Hammond provides some pre-recorded lectures, but also hosts live interactive tutorials that give him the opportunity to get to know his students — something he wouldn’t be able to do on campus.

“It’s not the best circumstances, but I can be a bit more creative in terms of the ways I do things,” he says. “Under normal circumstances, I'd have to get separate rooms for these smaller tutorials, and it just wouldn't be possible logistically.

“We're all in this together,” he adds. “For better or worse, I’m one of their friends now that they're talking to regularly and I try to approach the job in that way.”

As for Chan, she hopes the video continues to spread and that its positive message of empathy for both instructors and students reaches an even larger audience.

“I hope other students can understand that everyone, including our instructors, is struggling through these trying times,” she says.

“Simply turning on your camera during lectures, reacting to questions with a thumbs up or down, having a fun greenscreen, and engaging with your peers and professors can brighten up their day and make online learning slightly more tolerable.”