In a Zoom meeting this past week, one of my colleagues brought up a point that had thus far not been raised. We’re all Zoom-fatigued enough as it is that we try to keep the sessions short. Ever since the pandemic took hold last winter, we have been flying by the seat of our pants, adapting to online teaching. Our students, for the most part, have adapted as well.
“At a certain point,” the colleague said, “Shouldn’t we develop a core template for the online curriculum? I mean, because this is where we’re heading, to some form of hybrid learning.”
She had a point, the rest of us grimly conceded. Sooner or later, this pandemic will wind down, allowing us to return to the university campus which has for the most part been shut down for the past year. But no doubt, that will not mean an end to online classes. Most likely, we will eventually have a mixture: perhaps three days at the campus, two days at home, or some such formula yet to be determined. After all, the online courses have had their benefits. It’s nice, for example, not having to navigate the city’s often soul-crushing rush hour traffic in the mornings and evenings. And not having to brave the cold, miserably wet mornings we in Istanbul have experienced of late,
Of course we all miss the face to face interaction with the students. We miss the pleasant, positive vibe of the campus (the café, the chats over coffee with colleagues during break time, the gossip). Likewise, the students miss having the chance to make new friends, the social atmosphere that school provides along with academics. No doubt we will return to the campus, hopefully later this year.
But equally certain is the fact that an online component will remain. After all, we cannot be too sure that another wave, even another virus, won’t come along. But also, our colleague’s suggestion notwithstanding, we have managed to develop a viable working online model, through lots of trial and error. We use Blackboard, a well-known education platform, and Zoom for the virtual classroom, Why just throw these tools out when the coast seems to be clear? Why ignore the benefits and potential of online learning, which has a lot of room for further growth and development?
Also, the students have gotten used to it. It would appear to be more prudent, and forward-thinking, to continue to develop and refine the platform, as our colleague suggested at the meeting last week. Technology also fails though: You can’t ‘always count on your Internet connection, as we all know.
Which means that, yes: sooner or later, we need to get back to the campus, for a lot of good reasons. But also for good reasons, we need to keep and improve the online model. The old and new ways should work together, and this pandemic, for better or worse, has forced us into finally doing things in practice that previously only been talked about in theory.
All of this got me thinking of the world in general. The world we have always known, the one we have grown to miss terribly the past year, has receded not so gently further into the past. My wife and I, like most people, find ourselves pining for the days when we would routinely plan our summer holidays. When we could travel abroad (America this year? Or Europe again?). Now we’re not even sure that, even when we get vaccinated, if the vaccines we get will be accepted abroad (“Sorry, your China-produced vaccines are not good enough for us to grant you entry. Next!”)
Years ago, I worked at a steakhouse in Eureka. A lot of the regulars were in their late fifties, early sixties. They remembered the glory days of the North Coast, when logging and fishing were king and queen, and the steakhouse was the best place in town. Some of these old-timers could be grumpy, quarrelsome, fussy whenever they came into the restaurant.
“Their problem,” observed my manager at the time, “Is that the world is changing. And there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.”
It’s never been good to fear change – something I learned from those days. And nowadays, our world has changed very dramatically, continues to change every day. None of us really know when this pandemic, and its effects will finally end, or at least peter down to a level that enables us to stop wearing masks and banish the concept of social distancing from our vocabulary and daily habits.
It could well be, as some have posited, these measures will be in place for years, if not the remainder of the decade. Rather than the Roaring Twenties, this could be The Worrying Twenties. Well, at least we can all have a drink of something better than bathtub gin.
Perhaps this pandemic will be, for our generation, the world-changing, cataclysmic event that the first World War was for the flappers and sad young men of that era. Speaking of them for a moment, the end of the Great War saw the emergence of the New Woman, with bobbed hair, short skirts, and a newfound independence. The so-called woke movement, propelled by the ever-growing power of social media, will continue to transform and challenge longheld attitudes toward race, gender and sexual orientation. The Jazz Age produced the first movie stars; our age produces Instagram stars and influencers (“influencer,” a term that scarcely existed a decade ago).
In politics, China is making increasingly bold moves to become the world’s preeminent power, just as America was at this time a century ago. China’s economy is set to surpass the U.S. by 2030, according to recent news reports, and the situation in Hong Kong, not to mention China’s Vaccine Diplomacy effort, the recent successes of its space program, the ongoing construction of the New Silk Road (which by the way, also includes Istanbul), not to mention the unveiling of new aircraft carriers – all of these things, along with the West’s general preoccupation with wars – from the Middle East to its own present culture wars – the past twenty years or so, suggest that China’s ambitions not only will be realized, but that profound change in the world order may already be under way. If so, in ten years’ time, the students at my university will probably be learning Chinese instead of English (or Chinese along with the existing English courses).
I’ve drifted far afield from that opening, from our Zoom meeting. These are just thoughts (God, do we have too much time to think nowadays? Too much time at home), I have had for some time that I just wanted to get down. Maybe in a few years’ time, I’ll look back on these grandiose theories and wince, but that would hardly be the first time that’s happened.
To employ the cliché, only one thing is certain: change. Just as my English colleague pointed out at the meeting. No matter what happens regarding this pandemic, online learning is here to stay, in one form or another, something we teachers and our students will have to accept, and we have. I suppose the same is true for a lot of other things.
I wonder what F. Scott Fitzgerald, the chronicler of the Jazz Age, would have said about this latest version of the Twenties. He might have called it the Streaming Age, or the Spotify Age, if he wished to assign a soundtrack. But that too is another sign of our times, that we don’t have a predominant, era-defining style of music (would you count KPop? I say, meh); we all listen to our own playlists rather than the radio (I probably haven’t listened to a radio station proper in – how long? Probably about the last time I actually bought a newspaper, and who can remember the last time they did that?)
Then again, the always prescient Fitzgerald might have found the concept of “generations” itself to be a rather outmoded idea, given that we seem to have dissolved or transmogrified into an online mass, a sea of comments, shares, likes and memes – young and old alike breathing the same contaminated air, equally (equally? That’s a loaded word: “comparably” then) connected and disconnected, affected and disaffected.
Maybe the Hybrid Age is a more fitting term, since moving forward a lot of things will be mixed together, the old absorbed into the new, if not replaced or discarded, where ambiguation is the norm; those seeking clarity will be singing with the nightingales.
Most likely we will continue, for example, wearing masks for quite a while, and the modifications that restaurants and cafes, and other public places, have had to make to allow for social distancing will also probably remain. Who knows? Have dark, corner booths gone the way of the smoking section? Romantic couples can only lament, and rendezvous in the park for a picnic instead.
Well, enough philosophizing and prognosticating for one day. I’ve got an online class to teach, and before that, my wife needs me to take our son Leo for a tractor ride in the living room. That, along with at least one more perusal of “The Book of Things To Spot,” are among Leo’s morning requirements. Being a parent is one of the big changes I for one have certainly had to get used to the past year. But some changes, big or small, are worth it.
I’ll close on an encouraging thought, the old dirge from Shelley:
The world’s great age begins anew
The golden years return …
Shelley is right, of course. But the golden years, upon returning, never look quite the same as they once did. Often we don’t even notice they were here until they are gone. Maybe the best thing is to just try to live now and enjoy this age for what it is, and for whatever it turns out to be.
James Tressler, a former Lost Coast resident, is a writer and teacher in Istanbul.