Professors Miss Human Interaction, Too

Professor Karen Hunter's class conducted via Zoom
Professor Karen Hunter says one can utilize more from the new normal of Zoom classes, like this one where she is on the top left corner, conducted on May 15.
Photo by Mindup Lama

After getting kicked out of Zoom a couple of times during a class session, Professor Lina Garcia spent over two hours on the phone with her internet provider on a Sunday afternoon. Apparently the problem was the Graduate Center professor’s router.

Before the lockdown, Garcia worked six days a week, teaching Spanish. The internet hitch was just one more thing that made Garcia sad and detached since CUNY transitioned to distance learning. “That human interaction—I was missing that so much,” said Garcia. “I was starting to feel so lonely.”

Stories of students having difficulties and anxiety are well known, but many professors are struggling with distance learning, too.

“It’s just not nearly as easy to control the dynamics or read the room when it’s just a sort of conference call,” said Jasper Lauderdale, an adjunct assistant professor of media studies who love being in the room with his students. “I got into teaching because of the interpersonal experience.”

All the stress and time made Lauderdale rethink his assessment and himself in a different way. He learned that he is “more of a social being” than he thought he was. When lockdown lifts, he is thinking of taking advantage of the city that he took for granted. “More screening rooms, going to concerts and museums—maybe eating out more,” said Lauderdale, smiling through his laptop’s camera. 

When classes are conducted online, professors can only hear and see students if they turn on their microphone and video. Especially if the class is bigger in size, like for Professor Michael Gitlin who teaches over 100 students in his Film 160 class. It is difficult to conduct participation and engagement. “If people want to communicate they either do it through chat or raise their virtual hand,” said Giltin who feels like he is doing a podcast rather than lecturing a class. “It feels a bit disconnected.” 

However, some professors favor the new way of conducting a class. “This Zoom thing is a thing now that we can utilize differently,” said Professor Karen Hunter advising her students how they can take advantage of the platform change, on the last day of her class. “We have to create a new normal.”

As for some professors, they are more concerned about the other pandemic crisis interrupting students with distance learning. During a reporting and writing two class, Professor Sabrina Artel received a message from her student saying his mother needed help with the grocery shopping, so he had to leave. Another student of her’s is left alone in an apartment as her roommate moved due the lockdown. Providing these examples Artel explains how it disrupts and challenges online learning when students are in their personal space, often full of interruptions, both physical and emotional. 

After experiencing the new way of teaching, some professors are putting their hopes on a fall semester on campus. “I miss going to work, I miss my environment, said Garcia. “I hope this ends soon and we can go back to the classroom.” 


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