the quarantine diaries: day 6: COVID-19 and online learning.

The day is boneless. No bones, no structure. I have to fill it in myself. I oscillate between my to-do list and talking to my refrigerator (…I wish I were kidding. We’ll skip the part about filming embarrassing short film dry erase stop-motion animation on the smooth fridge surface).

I didn’t realize just how many emails landed in my inbox until I was not distracted all day enough to notice them all come rolling in. Half of them, it seems, are university emails, asking for student input (which is great), updating us with revised schedules, or simply words of consolation as the semester seems to be singlehandedly imploding.

Professors (some of them who hate touching computers) are scrambling around feeling helpless not knowing how to best help their students, and trying to wrangle their courses into a neat, digestible package for online use.

This is wild to me, partially because now that “online learning” is thrust upon it, it doesn’t have this glowing, golden halo that a lot of people says it does. Is properly curated online learning a great way to have content without walls? Absolutely. Does it give people who are unable to travel a way to participate and learn and discuss? By all means. But it feels like, as of now, there are holes– gaps, which leave out the nuances of face to face instruction. I just saw an instagram account: @dontwasteyourcollegetuition (haHAA too late) that put out a post re: “how to stay focused in online classes”. There are a lot of vaguely good tips in there, (“create a structured schedule, be clear about deadlines, keep in contact with peers and professors on a chat/video platform”), but nothing really related to our attention spans, blotting out actual distractions, plus the effects on mental health and social relationship building.

It’s crazy to me that so many people are making this transition practically overnight…including those who don’t learn that well in an online learning environment. I am personally frustrated about this change, and while I wish it could be different, I know that this is how it has to be for a bit, and so I’m seeking a way to make peace with it. In a way, part of this process is taking it apart, looking at it and its implementation, and treating it like a learning experience, like an experiment.

And when our university (and subsequent universities) made their big announcement the decision to do this, it hit me. And since I’m trapped inside with much time to stew and speculate, I can write about this realization: this move to Online Learning relies on 2 bold assumptions:

  1. That students have access to a reliable, fast (enough) internet source while they are self-quarantining.
  2. That those in quarantine have devices capable of handling online class environments

I remember how THRILLED I was at the dawn of 2020, knowing my fam had *just* made the switch from DSL to Fios, and the upgraded speed being so much faster than it had been before… I can only imagine, had we not made the switch… relying on 1 modem to handle the bandwidth usage of the entire family, who also need to be online for school. Our system definitely would not have been able to swing that. But I know in my county back home there are those who definitely benefitted from the school’s internet connection, from the library’s internet connection, who will most likely be struggling through this time of online conversion.

Last semester, in one of the most fascinating classes I’ve ever taken, we spoke about the digital divide and the ideological battle for a free, (perhaps mildly regulated) internet. There are so many posts about how this pandemic is, in a way good, because it’s forcing us to reckon with the institutions we’ve built, the outdated systems we have in place, and “the way we’ve always done things!” And part of this is exposing the issue of people’s ability to access the Internet in a way that doesn’t make them bankrupt, or break their backs and sell their souls to tech giants and broadband moguls.

What institutions need to realize is that they are putting the spotlight on the digital divide — the gaping hole between those who have ready and ubiquitous access to the Internet, and those who don’t. This isn’t new. People’s access to the rapidly expansive internet relies, unfortunately, on education, & income, and even race & gender (a product of socioeconomic status), and even attitude concerning technological adaptation. It’s just wild to me how, every day there seems to be a part of the machine that has fallen apart, or broken in front of our eyes. It makes me wonder why we’re not building our own Internet infrastructures, being self-reliant to avoid these system-imposed boundaries and just doing it ourselves, like many successful communities have done.

Some are saying that once this is all over, everything will just go back to the way it was like nothing happened…but I hope for my life that that’s not true.
We’ve learned so much. There’s too much been unearthed now for us to turn back.

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