Video conferencing is not like meeting in person, is it?
Since March, I use conferencing apps for four regularly scheduled appointments. Early on during the pandemic, I did family meetings, played chess with my son, and engaged in a few other virtual social events. Now, it’s pretty much just four.
My WW (formerly Weight Watchers) group meets weekly. I use my phone because I can’t see all of the forty or more people on my computer screen anyway. With my phone, I can sit outside enjoying my morning cuppa if the weather is nice. Or turn off my video and harvest a few snow peas.
For my monthly publisher’s association meeting, the fiftyish participants all turn off our video and audio as the presenter takes over the screen. No problem with these for me.
It’s the other two meetings that seem to have caused me a senior moment.
Here’s a phone conversation I had yesterday with a friend from one of the two faith sharing groups with whom I virtually meet. My eighty-year-plus friend Lois, trooper that she is, has learned how to click on the link I email to her and is always amazed when she suddenly finds herself looking at five to eight others in the small group that I host.
Yesterday, I was on the phone with Lois, telling her a story, and trying to remember where I heard it.
“I can’t remember who told me this but … wait, I know, it was what’s her name, you know, from our group? The one who just joined not long ago? Darn, why can’t I think of her name?”
“Umm. Not sure who you mean, Debbie.”
“Oh, you know, the one who teaches at that school in the city. I can’t remember the name of the school. She’s Kathy’s friend.”
“Umm. I know Kathy but I don’t know who you mean.”
“I know! It’s Donna. You know Donna that’s organizing that event with Kathy?”
Meanwhile, I’m picturing the Zoom screen. There’s Kathy. There’s Donna. Oh. Lois isn’t there! She’s in the other group!
Picture me smacking myself in the head as I acknowledge to Lois that she doesn’t know Donna. Wrong video group.
Every other Tuesday for the last twelve years, I have gotten into my van and driven ten minutes to the same home. People being the way they are, we usually sit in the same chair every time, depending on who’s there that night. In March, we began video conferencing.
Two Thursdays a month, for the last four years, I clean house. I am the hostess to a different group of women. I always sit in the same chair, and, depending on how many are in attendance, most people sit in the same place each time.
March 2020. I have carved out a tiny corner in our small guest room where I can video conference. I don’t interfere with my husband’s television watching and I have privacy. I’m between the foot of the bed and the mirrored closet door using a “lady’s writing desk” that barely holds my laptop and mouse.
No car takes me somewhere. (No need to clean house!) Physically I am in the same place for both of these meetings. Maybe that created the confusion for me. Or maybe it was just a senior moment.
Last night, I knew the conversation I had planned would probably extend beyond the forty minutes allowed by the app. I explained that people could go back to my email invitation, re-click the link, and we could continue talking after we were shut down.
So, round two began.
“Oh, there you are. I see you and you and you. But everyone is in a different spot.”
Yes, Lois, my feelings exactly. Everyone is in a different spot. Hard to wrap my head around.
And Lois was a late arrival so she didn’t have the added excitement of seeing everyone change positions on the screen when someone new entered the meeting.
If everyone would have assigned spots on these conference calls, my brain might not have thought that Donna and Lois were in the same group!!! Right? We need a seating chart.
This whole experience caused me to think about my years of teaching and what e-learning might be like for students.
I taught adolescents in a self-contained special ed classroom for two years. I taught children in general education – kindergarten, first, and second grade – for twenty years. I taught college classes part-time for five years. In all these situations, students had assigned seats.
Please understand that I did not assign the seats to the college students. They assigned spots to themselves. If I asked them to move around for particular activities, they were distressed.
In our educational system, the norm has been assigned seats.
There is comfort and security in that. I sit here. Johnny sits next to me. Suzie sits across from me. A basic security need is met so I can now focus on learning.
Distance learning suddenly arrives.
The hostess of my Tuesday group, unlike me, sits in the same room where we met in our actual meetings. She did this intentionally so, when we look at her, we see a familiar background. Helpful. Yet, as I look at others in the group, I may find my mind wandering for a minute, wondering where in their house they are seated. I’m not typically distracted by the environment and I’m not trying to learn something important. It’s a slight distraction, not a problem for me.
I’ve seen photos of a computer screen filled with twenty small faces of children engaged in distance learning. I wonder how much time they are distracted figuring out where to locate a friend in the everchanging lineup. Do they, like me, get distracted by what they see in the background behind their friend? Especially if the photo they see is a includes a ceiling fan? I bet they can’t mentally eliminate that distraction as easily as I can.
Faces come. Faces go. Those left behind change positions on the screen.
Then I think about the kids who have sensory processing disorders.
Visually, the screen is blinking and moving as students come and go. The sound of voices cutting in and out as various students compete for the opportunity to speak. The yellow frames moving as people talk. That must be a nightmare for people with auditory challenges.
I won’t even talk about technology availability or snafus!
I shudder to think of trying to teach children to learn through video conferencing.