This week’s prompt for the @ONE Reflective Writing Club #CCCWrite asks us to ponder how our digital era has changed what we do and how we do it.
Some Things Have Changed a Lot
As I wrote this prompt, I immediately began to relive my experiences as a new art history instructor. I started teaching part-time in 1999 and was hired full-time in 2002. At the time, all of the art history instructors used color slides — you know, those little, funky square color transparencies surrounded by a plastic frame? There was no way to search a database to find the slide I wanted. Instead, I had to rely on the good-will and focus of my colleagues to return that one slide to the slide library where it belonged. And those slides — oh those slides — were rarely where I expected them to be. As I prepped for five lecture classes, I had to develop my slide “wish list,” hunt for those slides, and then make adjustments to fill in the gaps.
Then along came digital images. Holy moly, how excited I was! After I realized that once I curated a digital collection for a particular class, I could save it and reuse it again, my world changed. The clouds opened. The light streamed in. I heard angels sing. But not all of my colleagues felt that way. Many resisted this change, mostly those who had curated their own physical slide collection.
The next compelling realization I had after moving to digital images to illustrate my presentations in class was that they didn’t have to include just images. I could insert a title, an artist’s name, and a date below an image. Again, a basic concept to us now, but at the time this was revolutionary. I recalled all of my memories of art history classes that left me feeling bewildered and lost. I remember art history professors who showed slides of Greek ruins, but not the images from our (expensive) book. Instead, they would use images from their travels. In some ways, that’s a pretty cool idea, but, for me, I was always left wondering, “Wait is this still the same crumbling structure that we were talking about five minutes ago?” Oh, if only the identification information had been along the bottom of those slides. My learning would have been supported so much better.
Some Things Will Never Change
When I fast forward to today, nineteen years (gulp) after my foray into the wonderful and arduous world of teaching, I feel as if I could write endlessly about the iterations I made in my teaching as digital technologies evolved. Many of these were conscious improvements to the problems I experienced as a student. But at this moment, there’s one reflection that resonates with me most. When I started teaching some of my classes online, I never anticipated that I would learn to know my students more and understand their needs more, and be able to support them more than in my facet-to-face classes. When I began to teach online, I began to teach with love.
I have written about my love of online learning in the past but there have been several recent experiences that have brought be back to recognizing the important role that human connection plays in life. And everything in life is about teaching and learning. Here are a few recent experiences:
- Two weeks ago as I stood mindlessly in a security line at the airport, I observed an airline employee assist and elderly woman in a wheel chair through the security check. Once through the checkpoint, he didn’t just keep pushing her chair forward. He stopped, walked in front of her chair to face her, gently picked up the blanket on her lap and tenderly tucked it in behind her shoulders. Without saying a word, he walked to the back of the wheelchair and proceeded to push her forward. Such a small gesture. Such a simple gesture. And such a powerful message of love.
- This morning, my sister told me a story about a work colleague. While at work, she called IT to report that she was no longer able to log into her secure account. In a huff, he said, “I’ll be right there.” He thought he hung up his phone, but he did not. She heard him scream, in an angry voice, “What the #*!$?! You can’t even log into your computer?!” When he arrived at her desk, rather than staring him down and judging him, she looked him in the eye and said, “You know, you didn’t hang up your phone and I heard what you said. That really wasn’t appropriate.” Red-faced, he apologized. The next day, she found a card on her desk from her colleague. He wrote her a note about struggles he was going through and how that experience had made him recognize how much he wants to strive to be a better person and a better colleague. This made me think of all the students who miss due dates, show up to class late, write poor papers, and don’t reply to emails. What’s happening on their end? And how would a little love change things for them?
- This this powerful post post by Fabiola Torres, written with passion and commitment reminded me how, as educators, we must strive to get students to believe in themselves. Because until a human believes in their abilities, their hopes and dreams will never come to be.
And, of course, Valentine’s Day. I’ve never been much of a fan of this holiday and all the materialism that surrounds it. But, this year, even though the world seems to be filled with more hate, I see love in so many little things. And I recognize that no matter how much change humans endure, love remains the most vital piece of living a happy, fulfilled, meaningful life.
I really appreciate your focus on human connections in your writing. You’ve mentioned Brene Brown before and inspired me to check out Braving the Wilderness. I just finished the first two chapters about belonging and trust. I’ve never had anyone define so clearly for me those aspects of love and their importance, especially the way she described the moment when she no longer felt like she belonged in her own family and how devastating that was. I’ve had similar moments but have been unable to describe the experience so clearly.
I get it. I know exactly what you mean. Brené Brown’s work has given me so much perspective on my own life. It also allows me to relate to other people in a deeper way. I’m so happy you’re enjoying one of her books. 🙂 Thank you for your comment, Liz.
I can relate to the human connection that you speak about. When I first started teaching online with powerpoints and PDFs, I wondered how I was going to know my students. It wasn’t until I began experimenting with digital technology that the connections began to blossom. And thank you for the Fabiola Torres post! Very inspirational.
Maryanne, it sounds like you and I are from the same mold! It always feels good to find someone you have connections with. Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting. Keep on experimenting! It is so important to improving the learning experiences of online students.
Michelle, This is such a powerful story of the importance of keeping our humanity wherever we are. I so believe, too, that it is the small acts of kindness and caring we do every day that makes the difference in many or our students’ lives. And it will be our willingness to reach out and connect with others that will turn around our current discord in our society; but it will take time. Thanks for your wonderful stories. ~ Sheri
Hi Sheri. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing a comment. Let’s keep spreading the love and we’ll get through this time together. 🙂