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This Is Not Your Father’s Classroom

February 10, 2021

Classrooms will never be the same. My kids grew up knowing the internet has always been a thing. The same for cell phones. My grandkids are growing up knowing that online classes have always been a thing.

I remember the birth of the commercial internet. I also remember the birth of cell phones. I learned to adapt and embrace them both. We’re watching the true birth of online classes.

The internet really started as ARPANET (Advanced Research Project Agency Network) in 1969. I was alive (barely) in 1969, but honestly I don’t remember it. I didn’t notice.

The first cell phone was used on April 3, 1973. At that point I was somewhat older than when the the internet was born, but only slightly.

Online courses really began in 1989 with the University of Phoenix. Yeah, I remember that one.

The point is that the beginning of a thing isn’t always the beginning of the thing.

I spent many years as a corporate trainer. I delivered training, I also created training. My training was classroom based training. I’m biased. I like classroom training. Online training, especially some of the early iterations of it, were really boring. However, with high speed internet and truly interactive classes, the situation has changed.

Cell phones are not as clear as land lines. But, cell phones are “good enough.” And have been good enough for a long time. And that was the real tipping point. When cell phones got “good enough.”

Online classroom learning isn’t as good as in person classes. The interaction between the trainer or the teacher and the class has many more chances to play out in person. As a trainer, you can see people’s expressions, but you can also see their body language. You can catch the casual asides that they offer each other. We’ve spent millions of years learning to interact with people in person. We’ve learned to figure out if someone was a friend or foe. We can read clues. Is this person going to hit me or hug me?

We don’t have all those clues online. We can hear people’s voice, of course. If they have their camera on, you can read their facial expressions, and their body language, from the waste up. But, considering the number of people who’ve been caught not wearing pants while on video calls, we clearly miss a lot during an online class.

I’m taking a writing class online. We meet once a week online. The instructor, Dave Wolverton, has taught this course at universities. But, he’s also prepared his course for an online audience. That means he has a PowerPoint, and we use the chat feature to ask questions. And we can also break in and ask questions during the lecture, but generally we talk among ourselves (via chat) and wait for the end.

We had a strange issue today. Dave started the Zoom meeting on time. The students all joined. Some of us had video and some just had a blank profile pic showing. Dave had a problem though. His computer was having technical issues. His video was working fine, but the PowerPoint wouldn’t load.

I seem to be having a problem getting my mouse to move

Have you tried loading task manager?

Try rebooting?

Do you want one of us to take control?

The class was full of suggestions. Some were more potentially helpful than others. My background is in IT. No one asked me for any suggestions, so I didn’t offer any. (I’ve been in IT for a long time.)

As Dave struggled to get his computer to respond, I thought about the times when I was teaching a class and something went wrong. It happens to all trainers. I’ve had to stall at times. And with a classroom full of people, it works. There are interactive exercises you can do. You can deliver material without the slides. You can write on the board.

Our online class didn’t have that option. I think Dave was considering whether to cancel the class. When we meet only once a week it is a pretty major change to cancel a class.

I remember being in a class at BYU. The professor announced that the following week we would be cancelling classes. The young students around me cheered. I raised my hand,

Why are we cancelling?

I have to be out of town.

Couldn’t we have someone substitute for you?

Are you saying you want to hold class?

Well, we’re paying to be here and learn this.

My classmates were not as excited as I was about holding class. And ultimately the professor decided we would cancel.

Everyone in Dave’s class had paid to be there. And we weren’t getting university credit. We were doing it because we wanted to learn how to be better writers.

Ultimately Dave got his issues resolved and we held class normally. It wasn’t even a huge delay.

I realized just how different life is now. Well, different for me. To my grandkids, this will be how it’s always been.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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