My Impressions of Distance Learning on January 20
I was amazed at how much the classroom atmosphere bothered me. I couldn't wait to leave, and that surprised me because I thought that distance learning would be one of the most interesting ways to learn about the material in this class. But I hated it, and can't wait for it to get better, or to get used to it, whichever comes first.
I was uncomfortable watching myself on the screen. Whenever I looked out at the Berkeley class, the monitor that was showing us was right beside it, and I couldn't take my eyes off myself. I stared at myself almost the whole class, even though I tried not to. I think I would have felt better if we couldn't have seen ourselves, even though it was something the Berkeley class complained about. Instead of watching my classmates speak in person, I watched them on the screen. It made even Randy, who was sitting right behind me, distant. He may as well have been in Berkeley! I felt removed from everything, even the students sitting around me in Ann Arbor, many of whom are my friends.
After I left class that day, I realized that what probably bothered me the most was my own lack of control over what I was seeing and who I could look at. We had to raise our hands to speak. The woman running the camera (not Howard) had to see that we wanted to say something, and train the camera on it so that Howard could see us. It made the process that much longer, and soon I had no desire even to raise my hand, even though I tried at first, because I could see that the difficulty was something I would have to bear with. I wanted to get used to it as soon as possible.
At the other end, I was forced to look at the "Berkeley Student of the Moment" -- the one who was speaking. Other students might have had interesting facial expressions or movements that may have lent to the discussion, but I couldn't see them. The fact that I couldn't glance around the room in Berkeley for any more information from anyone else bothered me. It reminded me of watching baseball on television versus watching it in a ballpark; there is always something interesting going on somewhere else that the camera can't pick up (except baseball games are more action-packed than ILS 609). If I develop a crush on the guy sitting on the right hand side of the back row, I have no control over whether I can stare/smile at him. And this doesn't even get started on the sound issues ... I couldn't hear anything ... it was muffled and there was lots of background noise.
I disagreed with the student at Berkeley who complained that he felt distant from us because we didn't have a name ribbon beneath our faces every time we spoke and the camera focused on us. It is not that simple! You never know anyone's name the first day of class, even if s/he is sitting right beside you ... Sometimes it takes all semester to figure out someone's name. I don't think printing the student's name on a ribbon would have made me feel any closer to him. Even bringing up homepages is not really sufficient; I'm not certain that the top third of my homepage is a good thirty-second representation of me, all set to stick in alongside my head while I'm trying to make a point in class. If the Berkeley students explore our Web pages, that is another matter, though ... I look forward to looking at theirs.
On the whole, the class was like being in the middle of a strange talk-show, a bit like a cross- country Donahue. I think it has a long way to go (or maybe I do), and I look forward to thinking about these issues in more depth, even when they bother me. One of the things I thought hardest about this week was how much it bothered me, and why it did.