As I write this, the fourth week of the quarter at DePaul is coming to an end. Because of the pandemic, DePaul opted to have the first two weeks of class conducted remotely, so I spend the early part of January in my home office on Zoom. Given how excited I was to be back in person in the Fall quarter, you won’t be surprised to hear that I was disappointed to be remote. My classes actually translate fairly well to online formats, but after more than a year my basement and Zoom have lost any appeal that they might have had. That said, I understood why DePaul did it, and I was supportive of the decision. I never once thought about petitioning to be in person.
Beginning January 19th my class switched to in person, and I was thrilled to get back into the classroom. But what I discovered quite quickly is that moving from remote to in person a few weeks into the quarter is a strange experience. I knew the students and yet I didn’t. The same was definitely true for them, given their faces on that first day. There were a lot of deer-in-headlight looks despite picking up with something we had talked about extensively before, I suspect because the experience of my class is very different on Zoom versus in person. I’ve also, at least in one class, retained a lot of Zoom participants. I create a Zoom session during each class for those who may be sick or are dealing with other issues, and in one of my classes about a third of the students opt for that.
One thing in particular that happened the first day back brought home to me how much different my Zoom class is than my in-person class. I ask students at the beginning of the quarter for their preferred name, in no small part because my legal first name isn’t my preferred name so I’m sensitive to the issue. Many people shared preferred names on the introductions survey I circulated, and I was using them on Zoom. But the first day back in the classroom when I was walking around taking attendance and trying to memorize faces, one of the students corrected me and told me to use a different name than her first name. She hadn’t up until then said anything about not using her first name, although she had completed the survey and I had been calling on her regularly on Zoom. There was something about having me stand in front of her that pushed her to ask for her preferred name. And that kind of connection is precisely why I hope that I get to stay in person with my classes for the foreseeable future.