The past week or so has been an education. Both for my colleagues and I, as we’ve adjusted to the online classroom and its idiosyncrasies, or as I’ve come to think of them idiosycrassities. Some for the record books (in order to protect the innocent, some of these were reported to me by other friends at other universities and in other biospheres than mine).

Multiple bobbles with the technology – many of these now recorded for posterity on links that students (and administrators) can watch again. In my props lecture this week, I invited students to bring objects freighted with meaning to share and a student popped onto the screen with a switchblade embossed with “funky leaves” as they described them. I visibly paled and proceeded to babble about illegalities. Check the recording. Or on second thought, don’t. At the end of class, we left Stella Adler spiraling in her grave.

Or when the attendance record was wiped clean by my colleague’s zoom crash (we rectified by granting everyone spotless attendance for the session. I think they were more or less all there.)

Or the professor who realized with horror that their student was taking the computer into the bathroom, dropping trou and sitting on the toilet. “OH MY GOD!” said the professor. After hearing this story, and recovering, I quickly reviewed how to stop participants’ video (it’s on the participant screen; hover over the person’s camera you need to mute and it’s under “more.” Here’s a Mnemonic device to help you remember: “I don’t want to see more of that.” Of course in a class with four or five screens filled with students, God and the Provost only knows how many of mine left their cameras on by accident to catch something egregious. I’d never know, because I’m sharing my screen and a result of that is that I can’t see the students on my screen…

Other reports from the zoomisphere: an online student who’s teacher suddenly asked the class why they were all laughing only to discover her husband had walked behind her buck naked from the shower.

Or the realization that “private chats” between participants are not really private and are recorded in the chats for the meeting. But only if the host records to their computer, not to the cloud.

The sins of sharing our humanity from our homes that have become public work spaces go on and on. Those are the ones I learned of this week in my confessional.

The upside of the past few weeks ironically, has been social reconnecting. I’ve picked up the phone in the middle of the day and called people across the country whom I’ve missed and gotten them. Guess what! They are all at home. No excuses. The first time I realized this, and picked up the phone, the recipient didn’t answer. I thought to myself, “Oh my. They aren’t taking my calls.” I fretted for a while, but fortunately a few minutes later, the phone rang and the caller said, “You know, Els, I have a very large apartment so it took me some time to get to the phone.” I’ll leave it up to the reader to imagine whether irony is at play here or not. I’m happy to report we subsequently had a wonderful catchup by phone.

I’ve attended two virtual college reunions in the past month. This after never attending a college reunion before. I graduated in 198….. and my absence from reunions has been a result of many things: poor timing with my work or family obligations, worry that my sobriety would make for awkward maladjustment at what I’d always associated as boozy affairs, general social timidity, worry that I wouldn’t recognize anyone, and fear of singing a communal song. The usual stuff.

But suddenly when presented with seeing human beings in a social setting outside of my classroom, I jumped at the chance and “went”, and was in fact, quite happy to see the all of the above was still relevant, but there was something equalizing about seeing 150 people on screen and trying to reconcile all their old faces with the bright shining pictures from the yearbook. Several people I recognized, if not from their faces, then from their names. I was able to be useful, too, because my university account allowed all of us to migrate from the host’s personal account. Watching late 50-somethings migrate from one zoom room to another looks something akin to a migration of wildebeests crossing a crocodile-infested river. Not without peril and a spectacular fail rate.

Photo by Robyn Preston of Wildebeests crossing the Mara River in Kenya (with apologies)

However, after ten minutes or so, I think we all made it safely, and continued listening to panelists discuss the COVID-19 situation, followed by a brief and fascinating presentation by one of our astronomy/astrophysics alums about what we’d see in the night sky if we could get out to see the night sky. Sadly, I am not privy to such a view at the moment. My first reunion was great until we got to the singing of the school song – if I dipped out early at the second meeting, that was why.

So, that’s about all I’ve got for you this week. Be careful out there in the Zoomsphere. It can be a dangerous place.

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