Polling students’ opinions is easy, too. I tried to do this with hand-held clickers years ago; the technology was costly and cumbersome.
There are also some environmental benefits to video teaching. Though digital interfacing still has a green cost (a fact that many people overlook), it can be less than that of physical interfacing. As I write this during my office hours, for which no student has ever shown up, I take comfort in knowing that I did not have to drive to campus to sit in an office waiting for no one to come.
To be sure, I’m a college professor: I don’t assume that what’s true for me is true for, say, elementary-school teachers. It’s no doubt true that smaller children need less screen time and benefit from being in one another’s company, while being forced into isolation at home has been damaging to many.
I’m also aware that whether or not one enjoys video teaching as a teacher or student is saturated with issues of temperament, learning preference or ability, access, space, student-teacher ratio and quality of technology (and comfort with using it). But those issues affect live classrooms as well, which means that technology or the lack of it, Zoom or no Zoom, is perhaps less important to a good educational experience than socioeconomic equity, the competence of teachers and the willingness of students.
Finally, I’m mindful that many college teachers are already underpaid, have too many students, are always on call and have no job security. It’s easy to imagine a situation where video conferencing allows for even greater demands on overworked teachers. But again, the problem is not so much with the technology as with an exploitative academic marketplace where the majority of college teachers are not on the tenure track and have become “freeway fliers,” driving from one gig to another on different campuses. At least with Zoom, they don’t have to drive to be exploited.
We are all now participants in a forced experiment in mass online teaching. Many might go back with relief to in-person teaching after the pandemic, but it seems likely that some of video conferencing’s benefits will remain, and that both teachers and students might want to be given a choice about how to mix online with face-to-face learning.
Regardless of what impact videoconferencing will have on our teaching after the pandemic, I am sure college professors can all agree on one thing: We should never, ever have in-person faculty meetings again.
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