Teaching during COVID-19: Why We're Fortunate [video]

min read

If the pandemic had struck ten or twenty years ago, our ability to interact with students would be severely limited compared with the tools and technology we have today.

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Gardner Campbell
Associate Professor of English
Virginia Commonwealth University

Gardner Campbell: It's fascinating to think about what would have happened with this IT web landscape even 20 years ago. What did we have in the year 2000? Well, we were just barely being able to have anything like WordPress. We were barely into, well…we didn't have YouTube yet. We certainly didn't have Zoom. We didn't have Slack. We didn't have Discord. We had phpBB, sort of, which is one of my go-tos—trailing-edge technology, as Jon Udell puts it.

But no! It's important to think about how these small pieces, loosely joined, are now small and very sophisticated and very powerful pieces that can be loosely joined. And it's certainly true that people will always complain. Since I am faculty, I think I can rat us out and say one of the things faculty do with their critical thinking powers is complain, a lot. And many times those complaints are warranted. Not always. However, to think about the things we can complain about now. More or less adequate bandwidth for the work we do. These incredibly agile and full-featured tools that come into life at a click of a URL? I can hardly imagine anything easier than joining a Zoom meeting. And Zoom was very smart early on by making it a little more complicated to host a meeting but absolutely easy to join a meeting. Well, all of a sudden, the barrier to entry has been usefully differentiated, and it's very low if you simply want to be part. And once you're part, you're like, "Hmm, wonder what it's like if I host a meeting?" When we've had this terrible experience and we've had to find ourselves inventing madly, improvising, doing all these things off the cuff we've never imagined doing before, it's truly a cinematic opportunity. We're making movies on location, together. How can we think about it that way? And if we can think about it that way, I think we find the tools at our disposal to be able to realize that vision in ways that simply would not have been possible if we had been trying to do this over Usenet.

One of the things that is extremely interesting for me, at this moment, is considering just how many colors are in the web-enabled palette, just how many of these small pieces loosely joined you can bring together. It's almost like cooking, you know, you have about 10 spices, four or five go-to utensils, and, "What is it you want for dinner tonight?" You don't have to think about, "Well, I guess I had better get the fire marshal in here to help me make the pizza." You just do it. And I hope that that will inspire more faculty as we move forward to think about how they can, you know, bake their own, how they can, outside the confines of a learning management system, be creative and invent these new kinds of recipes, to do the basic thing that we're all trying to do, which is to establish communication, to be reliable in the way that we're able to think and talk together, and to be able to do something that will build on itself over time. Yeah, we…it's an unlucky moment, at a lucky time, which is another one of the great ironies.