The pitfalls of online education

There are moments for fun and jokes when we teach and learn online. Check out our decent compilation of online educational “epic fails”.

I am sure you all remember the dystopian political science fiction novel 1984 by the English writer George Orwell, and the all-seeing eye of The Party and its leader, Big Brother. There have been thousands and thousands of references to this novel in the past couple of decades. When we look at it through the lens of contemporary culture, it would appear that it has gone through a strange metamorphosis. It was described best, and in only one sentence, by the actor and producer Keith Lowell Jensen: “What Orwell failed to predict was that we’d buy the cameras ourselves, and that our biggest fear would be that nobody was watching.” Think about this the next time you take a selfie or a photo of a guy chewing on his flip-flop in the subway.

We don’t perceive the omnipresent Eye of the millions of cameras around us as a danger or as something extreme, as it is pictured in the novel. The cameras are not disturbing us and we are used to their presence. We are safe in our homes, in front of our computers, and their cameras are our friends. We use them to talk to our family and colleagues. The funny part is that we tend to forget that someone is actually watching on the other end (for example, if we have decided to master Chinese in an online course with lessons conducted in a virtual classroom). I’ve seen a lot of those moments of natural glory and I could create a decent compilation of educational “epic fails.”

At first I thought they were funny. You might have thought so too, until you saw – and I mean really saw – something. And you know how it usually works with seeing things – you cannot unsee them.

Scenario 1

You are a teacher and you are currently preparing the virtual classroom for your next class – uploading files, arranging them on the online whiteboard, and loading the videos into the media player. You double check everything and you are ready. Now all you have to do is wait for the students to join you in the room.

However, there are still 30 minutes until class begins because you wanted to make sure everything was ready on time. You get bored and make yourself a nice cup of coffee and it’s now steaming on the desk next to you. You can’t do much with a cup of coffee now, can you? Then you engage in an activity that is widely associated with boredom or with physiological habits that are frowned upon after the age of 5. You start picking your nose and it’s not a quick check for anything that might be sticking out and make you look bad on camera when the lesson starts. It’s a slow process. Profound drilling. A Treasure hunt.

You are so absorbed with this activity that you don’t even hear the notification sound the system issues when someone new joins the session. You could have made a joke out of it if it was a lesson on human anatomy and not the history of Poland.

Scenario 2

You are a middle-aged mom. It’s summertime and everyone is on vacation at the sea, in mountain resorts, you name it. However, your kid has upcoming exams in September and you have enrolled him in an online course. The situation was a bit different some 20 years ago when all they had were those bulky personal computers, but nowadays you simply pack up your Mac and you can attend all the online lessons you want from any point in the world (one that has decent internet, that is). So, your 12-year-old son is comfortably sitting on the couch solving mathematical equations in the virtual classroom.

You are enjoying the sun and the view of the blue sea from the balcony of your hotel room while sipping your first (or second?) mojito for the day – nothing disturbing so far. And then your husband decides to join you on the balcony. Judging by how slowly he is moving behind your son, you know that he is trying to be very quiet and not interrupt the educational process. At this point, however, you no longer care about him being quiet because you would prefer that he and his Spandex shorts get out of the picture immediately (“At least he is wearing something this time,” you think to yourself).

Scenario 3

It’s your first year in college and you feel like you need additional help with your anthropology course before your mid-term exam. There is this awesome professor from the university of Zurich who is teaching online. The lesson starts, the professor is talking about Mircea Eliade and James Frazer, and suddenly your phone rings. It’s your bestie and she has promised to tell you all about her nocturnal explorations in the field of applied linguistics. You instantaneously forget that your camera and microphone are on and, before the awesome professor can intervene and put you on mute, the rest of the group knows a lot more than what they signed up for – the least disturbing piece of information is how strong Matthew’s arms are.

It’s funny, until it isn’t anymore – until you end up on Youtube in a viral video featuring your grandma giving you a pep talk on moral decay and the benefits of virginity while you are trying to focus on Faraday’s Cage Principle.

We are all taking part in this process with one purpose only: to exchange knowledge. Be present and be aware. Make sure that nothing or no one interferes. We are here to teach and to learn. There will be times for fun and jokes. Let’s not accidentally turn into one.

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Andrey Basat is a corporate trainings enthusiast with over 8 years of SaaS sales and support. Graduated in Krakow, Poland at the Jagiellonian University, MA in Teacher's specialisation. Member of the wine and books discussion club "The Magnificent 8", crypto currencies enthusiast and passionate advocate for new corporate culture.
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