Maybe COVID-19 comes with a positive.
I’m a high school English teacher. I’ve been teaching on-line for 10 days. Some classes have been surprisingly productive; others decay because of technology fails and student temptation to multi-task.
My students arrive in Google Meet for their 80-minute class having read a text. For the first 30 minutes, we discuss it; then I assign an in-class writing assignment; we log off so they can work; the final 25 minutes are spent discussing the assignment. They must share their work to receive credit.
The novelty of on-line learning helped propel the first week. However, student energy flagged the second week. Students reported that, between 80-minute class periods and nightly homework, they were spending too much time in front of a screen. It was depressing. It was anxiety generating. Their eyes were shot. Moreover, they were hungering for face-to-face contact with friends and faculty.
So, I asked them what, exactly, they were missing. Yes, human presence — but what about this human presence?
For many, it was hard to put their finger on, so I’ll let them tell you in their own words:
· “I just want to hug my friends”;
· “There’s an energy you get when you’re with people that you don’t get through a screen”;
· “In person, you see people in an environment, instead of just their heads, so it’s more meaningful”;
· “In real life, you can see body language” — the point being that the contact was more expressive and human;
· “When you’re physically together, you’re often sharing an experience,” though another student added, “Yeah, but only if we’re not walking down the sidewalk together with everyone texting.”
A learning specialist I’ve known for years shared perhaps the most telling experience with me. He was tutoring an eighth grader. The session ended a few minutes early, and when the tutor began to sign off, his student yelled, “No, no! The time’s not up! Can you just stay and talk?”
He was so hungry for contact, my colleague recalled, that the boy preferred spending more time with a tutor than…what? Gaming? Tik-toking? Watching TV?
Maybe there’s a positive to the COVID-19 outbreak. Might it be that Gen-Zers, whom we accuse of being enslaved to their technology, crave face-to-face human contact like the rest of us?