February Already?

February Already?

I am writing this just to prove that I am still here and I exist despite all the nasty rumors out there.

It is officially the end of February here in Latvia, and there really is no end in sight to the Covid Crisis. We have been on somewhat of a lockdown for months. Winter seems to be coming to an end, but there are still a thousand cases a day, and the vaccine seems to be slowly dripping out onto the country like a broken hose. Frozen. Stalled.

I am teaching my first online class using Zoom. I did do some remote teaching via Metropolitan Community College back in Omaha, but this is my first foray into Zoomland. I have to say, I am surprised at how not terrible it is.

First of all, I am lucky that I am teaching at the university level through RTU, and my students are Master’s candidates in the Digitial Humanities. I think the are very intelligent, respectful and hard working, so it makes my job that much easier.

On the first day of class, we discussed the pros and cons of online education, and they pointed out a lot of advantages that I had not thought of. First and foremost, our online evening class meant that they would not have to worry about commuting to the campus in the center of the city from 7:45 to 9:15 on a weeknight. For anyone living outside of the center, this would mean not getting home until after 10 p.m. As it is now, we start class and end class in the comfort and warmth of our own homes without any need to figure out logistics, as long as the wifi holds out!

The negative side is a lack of rapport. I pointed out that if we saw each other on the street, we probably wouldn’t regognize one another because we only see the faces on the screen. I could be wrong, but I know for certain that I would have this problem.

As a teacher, I really like seeing each student’s face while I am teaching. In front of the room, faces get lost in the distance, but with Zoom, there is literally no back row. It is also nice to be able to do digital breakout rooms, have the chat available at all times, and share screens with information. I think that it is easier to understand a presentation on a small intimate screne than when it is projected 20 feet away in a large classroom.

It also changes these dynamics. Slides can have more information, and you don’t have to worry about being too text-heavy since students can pause or go back to look at the slides again.

Because I am only teaching part time, I haven’t put a lot of thought in how these current dynamics will impact our classrooms once (if) life goes back to normal. But it seems that we are learning a lot about ourselves as a society and questioning why we go where we go when we go. The concept of “to go” itself is being put under scrutiny. Do I need to go? Is it best to go? Why am I going?

I was chatting with a Latvian friend of mine the other day, and he likes this “new economy” because it opens up this possibility of moving to the countryside and doing all work remotely without worrying about the commute. We have seen this promise harkening on the horizon for many years, but Covid has finally nudged us in that direction harder than we would have without the catalyst.

Who knows what another few months of this will bring. I see news that Britain is planning to go back to having students in the classroom with talks of opening up venues and even talking about music concerts and the like. I really get the sense that most of us are sick of being cooped up and we are desperate to go out and just have a drink in a restaurant, to sit down for a meal, oh, and for the love of God, see a movie in a theater!

I am hoping that all of this will lead to pent up energy for live events, but what if it has the opposite effect and makes us all even more inclined to just sit in our pj’s watching Netflix and vegging out in our own spaces? I hope this isn’t the case, but it is hard to know what the future will bring.

I look forward to it, whatever it is because I just find it all so fascinating!

Cheers and here are some photos from the Latvian Winter.

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