Digital Learning Roundtable with the Blog Team

Zoom voice: This meeting is being recorded.

Claire August: Oooh. Spooky.

Daniela Silva: Okay, let’s start! For these first questions, you say if you prefer or do either this or that. 

Number one- Zoom or Google Hangouts?

Everyone: Zoom.

Daniela: Camera on or off?

Everyone: On.

Daniela: For me, it depends on when my camera feels like working. 

Alexandra Huff: It depends on my mood. I like there to be some mystery as to where I could be calling from. It’s always my room, though. 

Daniela: Headphones, earphones or none?

Erick Moreno: None.

Vala Schriefer: Earphones for me. 

Claire: Yeah, I wear earbuds. Actually, I forgot the difference between them. Whatever these that I’m wearing are. [They were indeed, earbuds.]

Daniela: Are you always on time, a little early or a little late to meetings?

Erick: On time, but when I’m a little bit too early, I wait until I see that there are others already on the call and not just the professor.

Claire: I actually feel really satisfied when I connect in the exact minute; so yes, on time. 

Allie: I like to be a little late. The very beginning of Zoom classes makes me anxious. Nobody has found the rhythm of the conversation yet. 

Daniela: I’m usually one or two minutes late, just so that I don’t seem super punctual.

Do you experiment using different green screen background features, or just use your own room as a background?

Erick: Well if I had known that this was a possibility, I would have gotten so creative, but I didn’t know that existed. So these windows have been my background. 

Vala: Yeah, same for me. 

Daniela: I wish I had experimented more, I only learned about this recently when some people in my class kept changing their backgrounds to different art galleries and it caught my attention. 

Claire: I’ve been experimenting. I went to a real estate website and got some images of really nice penthouses and I’ve been trying to put some on my background occasionally, but usually I forget. [Claire changes her background to a bougie penthouse while speaking.

Erick: And how do I do it? [Claire teaches Erick how to change his background.] Amazing! 

Daniela: Ok, so the last one is: do you always forget to mute back your mic when you’ve stopped talking or do you always forget to unmute it to start talking? 

Claire: I always forget to unmute when I start talking, but, I’ve become very afraid that I accidentally don’t have the mic muted, like when I’m talking to my roommate, for instance. It’s a  new intrusive thought that I’ve developed.

Vala: I am also always double checking to make sure that I didn’t accidentally unmute it, even though thankfully I’ve never done that and nothing embarrassing has happened yet. 

Erick: Yes, I’m a bit paranoid about this muting thing because there’s so much happening in my house at the moment that I always mute it and keep checking every once in a while that it’s in fact still muted. 

Daniela: I’m happy to know that at least we all share the same mic fear.

Claire: Now we can move on to the longer questions. When I was trying to think of one about the subject of digital learning to discuss here, I started thinking of all the weird glimpses you get into your peers’ and professors’ domestic lives, like when you see their living situation through their backgrounds, for example. I wonder, do people take calls from their bed or at a real desk? Are they in what appears to be a shared space or their own room? Sometimes you can see roommates or family members passing by. In a weird way, I find this new online context even more ‘intimate’ than classroom learning since you have this vantage point into someone’s life that you wouldn’t normally have.

Student studying in her room (Credit: Ava Psimonds)

 It also makes me think about how the space or setting of the ‘classroom’ changes how a seminar is held. Classrooms are very much designed to be neutral, leveling sort of spaces, and you don’t necessarily have a glimpse into how people live because you all enter this generic and neutrally designed space for better or for worse. Do you guys have any thoughts on this? Does it make you consider the space of the classroom or the university at large differently? What do you think of this intrusion into your domestic space?

Vala: I know it’s been especially hard for people living in very small environments, like a dorm room, which is my case. It is the space where I eat, sleep, study—and now it’s a classroom. It basically serves every function and creates a weird confusion of all these spaces. I’ve been mostly trying to get used to that. For example, right now I’m sitting right next to my bed. I’m sure some people like to take their calls in their bed, but I need at least a bit of separation. I even started to do this ritual where I flip my desk depending on whether I’ll be eating on it or sitting for a class in order to have a differentiation, but then I stopped doing that because I got lazy.

Daniela: I definitely agree that this new context is a lot more intimate. I have been noticing how interesting it is that some people choose to present themselves very professionally on Zoom while others will be eating, some will bring their pets to calls, or just walk around the house as if they are not in the middle of a class. These behaviors sometimes are completely different from what we see in physical classrooms, as well as the level of comfort. You can easily spot how some people are either very comfortable or a little uncomfortable with the new format. 

I’ve also been quite distracted by people’s rooms. A recent example is of this one time my friend and I, who were in the same class, started texting each other about how cute and nicely organized this other girl’s room was. I definitely feel like intentionally or unintentionally, people start paying attention to everyone’s surroundings, not only to what others have to say, and this is all totally new. 

Claire: I’ve also been reflecting a lot on the nature of the liberal arts as I finish my degree at BCB. It is in many ways very removed, meaning you spend a lot of time thinking abstractly and, in this sense, very much detached from the “daily,” which is both a blessing and curse. The experience with online learning is interesting to me because you end up having this glimpse into the everyday, banal circumstances of your peers and professors and I guess you could say you see them through another light. 

Erick: In my case, at the beginning of this new format, I would get up, maybe take a shower, get dressed and then sit in front of the computer before class started. Yet, as time went by, I realized that all that wasn’t really necessary, So, now I’ve been mostly tuning in for class in my pajamas. I just put on a decent tee shirt or sweater on top as a disguise, and I don’t think that I’m the only one that does this, honestly. Perhaps most won’t confess it though… What about you guys? Did you go through the whole ‘getting ready process’ before online classes or were you in your pajamas too? 

Claire: I always ‘go’ fully dressed, it feels very important psychologically. I even put in my contacts, earrings, the whole shebang. 

Vala: Me too, Claire. I would do it because it was a reason to have something else to do during the day; it served as routine. Getting dressed became part of my online classroom ritual along with flipping my desk to have a different environment.

Daniela: Well, I did get dressed in the very beginning, but then especially after Spring Break, it wasn’t as frequent and I stopped worrying about it as much as I did before. 

Vala: I will say that I do rewear my clothes; I wear one outfit for multiple days. I pick something and say “this is what I’m gonna wear for the week.” So there’s that, but I am still getting dressed.

Allie: I do that too, Vala! I’m also a big fan of Erick’s method. I strategically use sweaters to conceal that I’m in pajamas.  

Erick: Right after this meeting is over I will take off this shirt and go back into my uniform, namely my pajamas. 

Vala: I also have a question for you guys. I’ve noticed that in some of my classes, people have related the topic of discussion to the corona times, as well as their own experience in this situation. Do you find that relating academic material to the current situation is cathartic? Helpful in understanding the times? Perhaps even helpful in seeing something new in the material being discussed? Or does it distract from “more important” issues in the topic? Would you prefer “corona-free” classes so as to have a break from the topic? I’m wondering what your opinions on this are.

Erick: Well, being socially isolated can be especially difficult for some and these kinds of people might need to talk to others about it more often. Class time might be the only moment during the day that they can actually share their feelings and thoughts about what’s going on, so I embraced it when people brought it up. I also very much enjoyed having banal conversations to keep my mind distracted with other things. Once in one of my classes, we talked about birdwatching and it was such a good conversation that I got worried. I realized that we all urgently needed social contact.

Allie: My classes were almost entirely Corona-free. This semester I took the first half of the Senior Thesis module, a philosophy class and the Modernism Core Course. They were all reading-intensive. Besides acknowledging the bizarre nature of doing deep dives into literary or philosophical texts when it feels like the world is undergoing a Tectonic shift, we pretty much stayed in the course. This was a mixed blessing, I think. On one hand, I enjoyed the normality that the classes provided but on the other hand, I found myself wondering how my classmates and professors were faring, and how a bit more flexibility in the course materials could have spoken to the moment we’re in. Maybe a good time to slide in some The Plague readings or something. All the professors were really kind though, and one even wrote individual emails to all the students to see how we were doing.  

Claire: I took two classes this semester in addition to the Senior Thesis module; one was a fiction writing class and the other a performance theater class, and these were definitely more about art production rather than reading. So the pandemic naturally became a part of both of these classes, as you had to work with what you were surrounded by. One of the performances I did was even about Zoom and about the challenges we face trying to communicate via Zoom. Another one we did involved us creating avatars of ourselves on an online game and living a second life, which was what the game was called. So, these performance pieces weren’t directly about the coronavirus; still they were about the experience of living so much of our lives online. Then, in the fiction course, I started exploring autofiction and how to write about myself, but through the lens of fiction. I didn’t incorporate the virus directly, rather the current circumstances.

Daniela: I feel like for certain classes I was taking this semester there was just no running away from the topic. For instance, in my Macroeconomics class, it was very valuable to make interpretations of what’s happening currently in the economic scenario to models and trends discussed in the course. There’s no better real-life example than what we are seeing at the moment, so personally, it contributed substantially to my understanding of the material as a student. Yet I also found it very hard to separate all the tragedies and deaths and everything horrible that is going on and focus on adopting an economic perspective and looking at the economic aspects of the pandemic. I felt a bit uncomfortable and guilty about making this distinction at times. I did also feel tired, stressed out and anxious from hearing, talking and reading about the same thing everyday. 

Claire: I feel similarly, since it seemed unavoidable to address the circumstances through whatever I was making. I also guess it’s applicable to art in general really, as it has the potential to express our realities. 

Vala: I do agree that it’s important to reflect because this is definitely a time when we’re living through history, but to me it can be a little bit much sometimes. I think it’s really important to take a step back as well and just try being in class as we would normally.

Daniela: Erick, you have a new background!

Claire: What is that actually? A unicorn?

Erick: It’s a man dressed as a horse. I was just trying out the function, I didn’t know that it was actually going to set it as my background.

Claire: I approve it. Should we move on to the next question?

Daniela: Yes, my question is about different time zones, even though I just realized that all of you stayed in Berlin. I was just wondering, did being in a different time zone or having peers be in different time zones play a role in your online learning experience and the dynamics of your classes in any way?

Vala: I think it definitely did. Most of my classes moved their time to later in the day because so many students were in the United States, which I was okay with. However, I noticed that for the ones who were tuning in as early as 6:00 AM, their approach to the class and enthusiasm was quite different, as expected. You could say the mood and energy levels varied depending on where in the world people were, which was pretty unfortunate.

Claire: I agree. I’ve become even more of an evening creature than I was before with many of my classes moving to later in the day. I also find the geographical spread very fascinating. I remember in our final reading for our fiction course, which we did via Zoom, our professor opened the event asking everyone to drop in the chat where they were and it was crazy to see people were scattered all over the place.

Screenshot from our Roundtable  (Credit: Blog Team)

Erick: In my experience, only one of my classes was actually altered due to time zone issues. My Critical Theory professor divided us into two groups and I was in the group that met earlier. This group was very small and it made class much more intimate and gave rise to a comfortable environment for everyone. So for me it was positive in that sense. Some other classes, like the Early Modern Science Core Course especially, didn’t necessarily benefit from this new online format since it was harder to coordinate and reach an agreement within a larger group of people in very different situations. 

Daniela: In my case, I am five hours behind Berlin time, so for my 9:00 AM or 10:45 AM (Berlin time) classes, which were three out of four in total, I tried to join live, yet it didn’t work out for obvious reasons. My professors for these classes were very understanding and they made sure I had alternative ways of participating and engaging with the class. They would record the lessons for me and other students who couldn’t attend and schedule private Q&A’s for us. It was definitely very weird in the beginning but I did get used to it eventually. I also asked this timezone question thinking of a situation that I experienced in my Policy Analysis class, which was the only class that I could actually attend live. We played an election simulation game, and half of the students in this class were either in Berlin or in the USA, and there was me in Brazil. We had deadlines for each party to submit reports about their campaign and it was so funny because these deadlines were reasonable for people in Europe. So, parties got penalized for being late and the media team would send news updates to our emails about these crazy corruption scandals that were going on in the middle of the night at around 3:00 AM Brazil time, so I would wake up confused and laughing at the same time. All in all, I think for me it was challenging to be 5 hours away, but there were a couple funny moments as well.

Claire: This reminds me a lot of the importance of “logging off” at some point. Also, Erick’s comment about this newfound intimacy in a class made me reflect on  how I think discussions have a different feeling over Zoom or Google Hangouts. I personally feel more pressure to speak for a really long time, instead of just making a brief comment. It is as if you feel the need to give a speech every time you choose to talk. It is also quite impossible to pick up on social cues in this online format.

Vala: Yes, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with the ‘officialness’ of the screen when it is your turn to talk. Everyone sees your face so clearly and so closely through the screen, it makes me a little bit uncomfortable, although I believe I’m more used to it now. Some of my friends have even commented on the way I move my hands and touch my face. Apparently I frequently do a specific movement with my hands as if I had a beard and I was never aware of it. People actually started calling me “Phantom beard stroker.”

Claire: I had a funny conversation with my roommate related to this. Both of us are big “mmm-ers”, meaning we make this little sound when we agree with something, and I remember this funny moment when I was just listening to my roommate take a class and she was muted, but she still kept “mmm-ing.” 

Vala: I’m curious about one final thing. We know that many people multitask during class, some make lunch or dinner simultaneously to attending seminars online, so I was wondering what is the biggest or craziest task you have done during class?

Daniela: I don’t know if it’s the craziest or biggest, but I like to do my nails while I’m in class. I find it is the perfect time to do so because in a weird way it helps me focus more in class when I’m multitasking. I also play a lot with my new puppy, Bart, although he’s very distracting and always tries to eat my laptop. 

Claire: That sounds like two very meditative tasks. I do a lot of doodling and sometimes note passing with my roommate such as this one, which says; “Do you want fried rice with veg?”.

Erick: During midterms, I worked on one of my essays in class. Another thing that I tend to do is research books that are brought up in class and of course, I have made myself a coffee more than once during class.

Allie: I’ll get up to make coffee too. During one Core lecture, I did a deep clean of my entire kitchen. 

Vala: The nice thing about not having to physically go to class is that I can be doing something three seconds before class like playing my guitar or violin and then just jump in. Sometimes I’ll just keep my violin on my lap and pluck it while class is going on. 

Claire: Also sounds very meditative. Should we wrap it up? Good work team!

Daniela: Okay, I’ll stop recording now. Bye everyone, have a nice summer!

Zoom voice: This meeting is no longer being recorded. 

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