As I sit back to reflect upon my teaching experiences over this academic year, I try to count the number of silhouettes I have taught, the number of breakout rooms in which tumbleweed has rolled, and the number of silhouettes who have remained in the virtual classroom long after it has concluded, ignoring requests to leave the room. I remember the halcyon days where the lecture could be a performance as well as enhancing the learning, where a seminar could include passionate debates on topical issues, and where you could see the students grow in confidence. So the pandemic has, at least for now, changed the world of teaching and learning.
But, am I being a curmudgeon? I pause, and give thought to those students who would never speak in class but will participate in a virtual chat room, or will write on the communal class board in answer to questions. Perhaps this new world is giving them the opportunity to participate in a way in which the pre-Covid set-up did not.
I have also given consideration as to how I teach. As a lecturer who normally bounces off the walls with enthusiasm, I have had to consider how that comes across in a pre-recorded lecture. The students do not necessarily see me in the pre-recordings, so I use my ‘radio’ voice: more measured, but hopefully no less infectious. The movement around the lecture hall or the dramatic gestures are lost in the asynchronous class. Instead, those lectures are broken down into bite-sized, pre-recorded segments to enable the students to access them more easily. But they may be more akin to a series of mini-lectures rather than a single whole – possibly no bad thing?
And then, it is important to reflect upon how the students are accessing these materials. How many of them will watch the pre-recordings on their phone rather than a desktop computer? How many will attend the synchronous classes on their phone as well? Our world of education has changed, and it has highlighted the greater disparities that exist: access to technology being the one which seems to matter the most.
In relation to these disparities, the silhouettes in class may not change. Students do not want others to see where they live, or in what conditions. It would be nice to have an image rather than a silhouette but maybe the technology doesn’t work. Similar with participation in the virtual classes – my microphone doesn’t work; I don’t have a camera; my younger siblings are home from school.
Our world has changed. But the focus has been on the wellbeing of the students, and the learning they undertake, rather than what the teaching profession has done. The live, face-to-face sessions are the best way to learn, or so we are told. Hence universities must remain open. But we have always been open. And adapting to change. And investing far more time and energy in what we deliver. Unacknowledged. Unappreciated. Under-valued. Forgotten.
In the next contribution to EURA Conversations Henriques Dorneles De Castro, Observatorio das Metropoles, Brazil discusses distancing.