• Bernadette Bowen

Response to Reflections on Recent Experiences

This post was written in response to the following prompt for a Seminar in Media Ecology:

"For this final discussion prompt and in 1-2 well developed paragraphs, I'd like us to simply reflect on our experiences with transitioning from a ftf course to a wholly online, and in our case, asynchronous education experience. There are many who believe that there is no difference, and that education is merely the transmission of content from point-A to point-B (i.e. information transfer). While easy enough for most of us to realize the shortcomings of this perspective, the important step is being able to clearly and specifically articulate why this view is problematic, and/or what are the differences that make a difference? Note, I'm not suggesting that ftf is always, necessarily better than asynchronous and online. However, I am arguing that different biases that operate within particular environments (e.g. ftf, online, etc.), and the goals/ends of the interactions (in our case, education), impact the experiences of those who dwell within those environments in significant ways.

One way to approach this, is to think about the biases that are inherent to the online format. How has your experience and behavior changed from the first half of the semester, to the second? Think broadly: What is required of your bodies in the different environments? How about your engagement with the material? With each other? With me?

We've been working primarily through the written word, which allows for different kinds of reflection and engagement. However, we're also embedded within the digital environment (through podcast, videos, links, and our user interfaces themselves). Also consider the differences of the physical spaces themselves. Please use any of the materials we've used throughout the semester to help clarify and support your observations."

At the beginning of this transition into virtual learning it was ironically the week I had registered to take the online course prerequisite workshop required for all professors prior to being allowed to teach online courses. Generally, the bulk of the course was a resource center; providing us with all the literature that claimed online teaching is just as good as ftf, and all the critics of it are just perpetuating false information. An exact quote from the module on online learning:

"Although online learning has been around for a while, there are some who still believe that the quality of teaching in an online course is lower than that which occurs in a face-to-face course.  Research does not support this, but the perception does still exist.  Hopefully as you build a course and teach online, you will learn first hand that a well built, well taught online course is content-rich, engaging and interactive, and that students can meet learning outcomes, learn, and grow in an online environment.  The online world offers many exciting opportunities for students and we utilize many tools, pedagogical techniques, and resources to ensure quality." 

By the end of the two week online workshop, the end of my second week of being forced to transition online the two courses I teach, and the first shit show two weeks of my own coursework, I am now apparently qualified to teach online for the remainder of my time here. With this said, I should caveat what I'm about to go further into in this post by saying: I am not someone who believes any aspects of life can't be alternatively opted as automated or technologically mediated. Right now, I just don't believe education is one of them.

This is why, beyond personal experience, I hope I don't get offered to teach primarily online, for many reasons. A couple of which being: my own personal preferences, and PhD student/instructor work/life balance constraints detailed extensively throughout the education case study in Van Dijck et al's Platform Society. First and foremost, I deeply miss teaching in person, but also I miss being a student in person. If you ask me, this virtual life raft in teaching/learning has been an absolute joke in comparison to the ftf version we received prior to Spring Break. Everyone I’ve ever taken a class with or has been in one of my classes knows how much I love being there because I convey that overflowing dedication by talking my face off constantly. Since transition, I've become as exceptionally mentally, emotionally, and intellectually removed as the pandemic has ordained us physically. And, for good reason, which leads me to my second point.

Secondly, in respect of the financial, technological, personal space of myself and my students, I did not enforce any type of synchronicity in my virtual classrooms. There are certain socio-political and economic privileges one presumes their students have if they do that, and I didn't want to be that instructor. As mediated compensation for that, I posted weekly announcements, had them complete discussion board posts in accordance with our attendance policy and as a means of moderating their progression with our course content. Of course, I also putting a customer service hat on to answer any emails/Canvas messages they had throughout the experience. These two contrasting anecdotes exemplify how different my teaching and learning have been asynchronously in comparison to ftf.

Namely, not only am I not getting paid enough to expend the extra emotional labor pretending to keep up some 2D version of the genuine rapport (that I do enjoy having with my students in-person) through the proxy of virtual coursework/facilitation, but I do not care to write my own discussion board posts as a student virtually, and I don't care to read anyone else’s either - to be perfectly honest. It all feels so disingenuous in comparison. Not that I'm ungrateful to still have a job, but I can't help but clock this all as continued evidence that corporatized education wants to ensure its gears keep on turning - no matter what - even as 60,000 body bags fill up around us.

The message of this virtual education medium is that we all should have organized to get the second half of this semester refunded like some others at different university’s did. To add insult to injury, and as Van Dijck et al detailed in their case study on education, because this half way through semester virtual shift all happened, now corporatized education has fodder to justify cutting comprehensive ftf curriculum further; starting with fields it doesn’t deem as necessary to fund as, let's say: business or STEM.