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Monday, March 16, 2020

Does Online Education Make Us More Human?

I get it.  Academia is seemingly shut down, and even those of us who aren’t panicking are forced to deal with a certain degree of uncertainty and inconvenience.  I am fairly devastated (in the drama queen, not actually devastated by definition way) that I cannot return to the campus of Harvard for class, because… come on… it’s been a real joy to walk through those huge gates from week to week, and it was kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity, but class is still on.  It’s just on my laptop.

To be honest, I was already teaching online this semester, so I have been less inconvenienced than most.  I am something of a pro when it comes to online education, and I love it, so I’m not sad.  I am thinking, however, of the many university faculty members who are making this switch for the first time, and based on things I am hearing and observing, I would like to offer this encouragement:  In answer to the question that is the title for this post, yes.  Online education makes us more human.

Here’s the thing.  Online education puts us in our natural environment.  It puts us in our homes.  Even if we’re still wearing suit jackets on top, everybody knows we’re wearing sweatpants on bottom.  We become more human.  We stumble to share the right screen, and suddenly complete strangers are privy to our screensaver that is a snapshot of a family vacation from six years ago as opposed to the lecture notes.  We become more human.  Our kids and our dogs run through the backdrop of our classes.  We become more human, and students find a little bit of joy in our chaos.  This is not a bad thing.  In fact, it takes some of the pressure off.  And there is a lot of pressure in the ivory tower! 

Perhaps my absolute favorite thing that I heard a student ask last semester was, “Do you actually care about me that much?”  Y’all…  I bought her a bottle of pop (side note, she had never heard the word “pop” to refer to “soda,” so that part was funny…).  The point, though, is that it doesn’t really take that much to humanize others and re-humanize ourselves.  This may be especially important for those of us teaching in degree programs for practitioners.  We are not machines.  We are people.  And people learn best from other people.  Funny how communicating through machines might actually make us more authentic if we let it…

Be well and carry on!