This may be my shortest column ever. Why? Because I’m reliving something I’d rather forget.
I’ve sometimes heard students reflect on their emotions when they learned during last year’s spring break that Harding would close because of the pandemic. Most took the news in stride but regretted missing friends and key events, especially the seniors.
As I spoke with students in my classes over the following two months, they were handling the transition to virtual learning fairly well — maybe going a little stir crazy or getting tired of drawing straws to use the internet at home — but they were dealing.
I, on the other hand, took nothing in stride. I don’t care for sudden change. One of my heroes was a friend who, late in life, somewhere around 1998, finally broke down and bought a typewriter. He was not one to rush into things. I admired his approach. I still have both the wristwatch and the calculator I bought in high school.
I have especially resisted the idea of online education. I’ve always believed there is no substitute for a teacher and students swapping ideas in the same room. I had hoped to spend my entire career without teaching a single online class, which I felt could only ever be a pale imitation of the real thing. I still feel that way.
So when I got the same news everyone else did last March that all classes would be virtual, I maintained my outward composure. But inside I was a wreck.
Before all this happened, my long-term plan to adapt to new technology in the classroom was to make one or two tiny tweaks each semester until I could retire, and then I would sit quietly in a dimly-lit room and watch the digital world rush by.
Instead, it was as if a couple of virtual gangsters dragged me out of my tranquil world and plunged my head into a bathtub over and over until I agreed to teach online. And they gave me one week to figure out how.
My colleagues — bless them — took pity on me and showed me how to do a few basic things: record video lectures, set up quizzes in Canvas, scan class readings.
As I started filming myself — pathetically alone in my office, miles away from the students who give me energy and purpose — I decided that I might as well go for laughs. I brought props and costumes from home and tried to work something silly into each class video. I dragged fake plants from the hallways into my office. I played ukulele music and sipped Hawaiian punch in a loud shirt. I put on a green clown wig. I played with Star Wars toys and recited lines from “Hamlet.” I sang under an umbrella and even ate cereal on screen. I had always wanted to become a vaudeville act. This was my chance.
Meanwhile, I may or may not have taught anything of value. But that’s how I handled my foray into pandemic education. I then spent the summer sitting quietly in a dimly-lit room.