As a college student, I have found my newest source of entertainment, and it is not my latest Netflix obsession — it is online classes.
Adjusting to the new challenges of digital learning, students and professors are becoming accustomed to eccentric behaviors that we never could have imagined a mere month ago. Some professors still teach in classrooms through video, but in the rows where students once sat attentively or dozed off, stuffed animals now form a makeshift audience.
If our Internet connection falters, we see our teachers suspended in a pixelated purgatory, their mouths frozen in the shape of the last syllable they uttered. In these cases, our teachers tell us to “have patience” and “bear with them” as their voices crackle into static like every phone call you have heard in horror flicks.
If professors teach from home, we can glimpse their hectic private lives. Children and pets run amok in the background (Professor Robert Kelly’s daughter was born for this moment). When professors share their computer screens with us, we see their latest YouTube searches and to-do lists in the form of digital sticky notes.
Quick-thinking students screenshot these funny moments and post them online, creating a communal comedy collage that likely will become a historical archive for future generations. With these social media groups, college students are documenting this carnivalesque world we now live in. As a result, the college professor’s greatest fear is being featured for some gaffe on the Facebook group “Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens.”
But the professors themselves are not our only source of humor. Thinking that their microphones are turned off during class, students go about their daily business uninterrupted. Classes now feature a symphony of sounds ranging from a toilet’s rumble to a video game’s violent onslaught.
Apart from unpredictable events in online classrooms, students across the country face another weekly struggle: exams. To discourage cheating, professors provide detailed instructions for setting up laptops during assessments. Laptop screens should form a 67-degree angle with the keyboard to show if there are any papers in front of students, according to these procedures.
Professors recommend that we stare deeply into the eye of the webcam to prove that we are not glancing at other study materials. Of course, these instructions do not help if you have neither a laptop nor a webcam.
Even if you can access electronic devices, there is no guarantee that you will find a seat in the virtual lecture hall. While shoppers clash over milk and eggs in supermarkets, the competition for digital resources persists. Bandwidth, a scarce resource, is now as precious as our last rolls of toilet paper.
In the tech space, an epic battle between video conferencing systems has eclipsed the war of the social media giants. Will Zoom, the host of virtual college parties, be the ultimate victor? Or will Webex, the office webinar platform, somehow attract Generation Z?
Some aspects of daily life have not changed. We continue to engage in dignified discussions about Renaissance literature and macroeconomics — while wearing pajama pants, of course. There is still an awkward silence every time our professor poses a question, forcing us to rearrange our scrambled thoughts into a cohesive answer. Facing midnight deadlines, we still get a thrill from submitting our papers at 11:59 p.m.
No matter how much we try to convince ourselves that virtual class is no different from in-person instruction, we cannot forget the celebrations and occasions that we are missing. Case in point: My sister’s college graduation has been canceled. For her, it is a missed milestone that she will never get back.
For me, it is revenge for the fact that I was never invited anyway — my parents claimed those two tickets long ago. At least students can celebrate Bring Your Child To Work Day with an exhilarating trip to the basement, the closet or wherever parents barricade themselves to escape their omnipresent children.
The coronavirus disease pandemic is wreaking havoc on the world, but we can find joy in those small comedic moments that accompany online learning and the creative ways in which college students are coping with this transition. Whether we are remixing teachers’ lectures into rap songs or wearing onesies during class, we are still just college students trying to make the best of this peculiar nightmare.
So please keep this in mind when assigning final grades, professors and remember: If this “digital learning” fad does not pan out, you could always become the next big meme.
Preanka Pillai is a Rutgers Business School first-year majoring in marketing and business analytics and information technology. Her column, "Unboxed," runs on alternate Thursdays.
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