Voices from the community: Learning online is not the same experience | Community voice
Watch a concert video, then attend a concert. Read the script of your favorite movie. Then watch the movie. Read a court case transcript and watch lawyers deliver their arguments. Read your favorite sacred text. Then go to a mosque, a church, a temple. It’s different: profoundly different.
I have seen hundreds of concert videos and attended hundreds of concerts. I read scripts and transcripts, saw movies and lawyers in action. I have read many sacred texts and attended a myriad of religious services.
Even though the content is the same, the experience is different. It’s different because delivery matters. Space matters. The energy and attention of a crowd, their eye contact and facial expressions, even their posture – it all counts. With the dynamics of the speaker and the audience, something magical happens. Words strike differently. Their passion and meaning resonate. Their transformative power is palpable.
K-12 classes are reopening, but most of the students are online. Most students also stay online. For over a year, teachers provided students with their lecture notes and appeared on Zoom. The students were given a plethora of information; they did countless activities. The students sat in front of a screen, engaged in their lessons, the teachers hope. They engaged their lessons more carefully than they typically interacted with what appears on these screens, the teachers once again hope.
If students complete their assignment and perform well, they receive the same course credit for their efforts, but they do not have the same experience. Even though they are learning the same subject, they are not pushed out of the comfort zone of their home. They are not far from the framework and associations of their life at home. Students are not directly confronted with people, ideas, faces and spaces that deviate from the familiar. They are isolated by their home, protected by their education, effectively broadcasting their education on screens that they associate with ephemeral and forgettable content: memes, gifs and social media feeds.
I understand why education has been online and I am not arguing when face to face teaching should resume. I am neither administrator nor person in charge of public health. I am a teacher. I am proud to be a faculty member at Bakersfield College who trusts and respects the leadership of its administration in this regard.
Online learning works for some people. Some students face transportation difficulties. Some suffer from anxiety. Some students have demanding family obligations or work better at home. Online learning is an important option for these students, and I believe in the options. For most students, however, online learning is not a suitable substitute for the immediate, vibrant and transformative classroom experience we previously had – nor are concert videos a substitute for concerts.
Reginald Williams is Professor of Philosophy at Bakersfield College and Director of the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities in British Columbia.