Teaching in the Void
Small black boxes fill my screen. Each one is labeled with a name in white lettering, but give no other identifying features. The microphone symbol in the bottom left corner has a bright red slash through it clearly indicating the lack of participation I should expect. I have no way to know what is on the other side of the screen. Are they female? Male? Old? Young?
I know, intellectually, that none of this matters. I’m there to assess skills not personalities. Still, it’s unnerving to stare into a sea of empty spaces. They say that teaching is all about building relationships, but how am I supposed to build a relationship with a void?
For three hours a week, I sit in front of my computer droning on about how to integrate sources into their writing with little involvement from my class. I’m lucky to get a chat response. And questions? Forget about it! I‘m a comedian whose joke has panned.
This is what teaching virtually is like during the pandemic. Part of the problem is not being able to require cameras to be turned on. It’s optional. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that education highlights our inequalities. Some students don’t have the equipment. Some students don’t have the bandwidth or internet speed to run video. And some don’t have a stable environment in which to broadcast.
Even though I have the stable environment, I use virtual backgrounds to minimize my exposure. It feels like an invasion of privacy. Students shouldn’t be in my home through a screen or otherwise. I need that buffer of separation that a virtual background gives me. Even if half my head disappears from time to time. It’s the price of doing business in our covid world.