Monday, 10 December 2012

Go virtual

I have been teaching online since 1999, but today I gave my first live virtual lecture. I don't quite believe that it's an adequate way of teaching, but as I always say about online teaching: it's a good alternative. In this particular case I was invited to do a lecture in Germany, and I just couldn't travel there for a whole number of reasons. Then my hosts asked whether I would be prepared to do a video lecture, and since I am always foolishly eager to try new things I agreed. It was some time ago, and I didn't contemplate how it would turn out. Last week we ran a trial, and after I had tried every single button it finally worked, so I was pretty confident it would work today. I had agreed to "meet" the technical assistant at a quarter to, and I started getting nervous, sitting there and staring at the dead screen. There is not much you can do. Then suddenly I saw a big lecture hall with a handful of students and wondered why there were so few - did they think it was a waste of time listening to someone who wasn't even there? (It turned out that they employ "academic quarter", that is, the lecture is announced at 4, but actually starts at 4.15. I was used to it when I taught in Finland).

I could see them, but not hear them, and they could neither see nor hear me, and I stared at myself on the screen and wondered whether I really look so hideous or was it just the camera. Eventually they could see and hear me, and I could hear them, but not see them, and by that time I just didn't dare push any more buttons in case I would ruin it all together. So I talked for an hour watching myself on the screen, without any contact with the audience, which felt a bit like talking into outer space. I like to see people's faces when I talk; I often adjust my talk according to the audience response - I guess we all do. But I just talked and talked, and sometimes I smiled, and sometimes I made a side comment which I'd normally expect the audience to react to. In fact, I wasn't even sure whether they were listening. But apparently they were, for they asked intelligent questions afterwards which they wouldnä'f have been able to ask if they hadn't heard me. It wasn't meant to be like that, but it worked for me, and I feel I can do it and would do it again.

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Clémentine Beauvais said...

Interesting, I wonder how it feels for the audience to be unseen by the speaker! I'm sure this kind of thing will happen more and more often in the future but gosh I hope it doesn't make universities rethink their conference funding allocations.

Maria Nikolajeva said...

I certainly think it will happen more and more often, but like many other things I hope it will add rather than replace.