Albeit being extremely helpful, the guided emails and tutorials received from the University of Malta, as well as help from more tech-savvy academics, when in mid-March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic imposed a sudden disruptive online teaching journey on everyone, were never enough to prepare me for the non-technical implications of having to give lectures from home through a computer screen.
I felt awkward when I was suddenly getting an intimate view of my students in their homes and rooms but this quickly turned out to be a reciprocal condition as the new window that online teaching opened into my students’ lives also gave the students a peek into my world as a working parent.
The initial stages of this shift were bumpy for everyone, and seeing that the University of Malta community comprises of academics of various ages, a few teething problems had to obviously be ironed out. The most significant changes for me, however, were not being able to see my students face-to-face and having to speak to a laptop.
I only had two requests; that my Zoom sessions would take place live not in a pre-recorded manner, and that both myself and my students should have our cameras switched on, even if this had to involve fun backgrounds so everyone could appear to be having the lecture from say, an exotic beach or somewhere outside!
I noticed that despite my request, some students still opted to not switch on their cameras during her lecture. And whilst acknowledging that internet connectivity problems could have posed a challenge for some, having some of my students to look at admittedly gave everyone a stronger sense of normality thus helping me proceed with the lecture and encourage more participation and discussion. Students themselves have told me that they find it easier to follow a live online class than a recorded one.
But the truth is that the issue of some students not feeling confident in asking certain questions during class, still reproduces itself on this new medium of delivery. Others however, especially those who are also facing a working parent predicament, seemed to be more willing to listen in and participate.
Perhaps the key to bridging this awkwardness is feeling more comfortable while being online. Why not wear comfortable clothes, less or no make-up, and be more honest about our situation?