The Tech difference in Education


Karine Leno Ancellin

After my return from New York, I was frantically preparing to go back to work, so when I was told about the confinement measures, I was soothed not to have to get back in front of my students, right away, on March 9th, 2020. I was being given a moratory week to get back to normal. So, as I had been using Zoom in my private writing life, I thought it would be a good alternative for my students and we immediately got started online. Little by little the information on the pandemic was streaming in, and in time it dawned on us that the length of the confinement was uncertain. To this day we have no concept how far this will take us…

The absolute truth of the matter, in my experience, is that I have built bonds with my students that go far beyond what normally takes place in my classroom.  It was different because I endorsed other roles, such as the therapist role I had to borrow to face the angst and anxieties of my students about what was going on and why. I also became a news moderator as we considered topics on safe distancing, on the blossoming of the environment, on the ‘powers that be’ and much more. We became a group of news commentators, and in this time of fake news, it was a harrowing task. 

Another strange factor in our student teacher relation, from the teacher’s point of view now is to enter the intimacy of our students’ private space, seeing their bedrooms adorned with posters of their favourite actors and music bands, photos.  Noticing the differences between living spaces from one student to the next was somewhat uncomfortable. The physical classroom is more anonymous, because the focus is on the student’s input, not her bedlinen.

The discussions were more forceful than in the classroom because being home the students tended to be more personal, referring to the many different countries they are connected to. Online teaching was a radically altered experience from the actual classroom, and the extraordinary circumstances increased that impression, these youths were expectant of answers I didn’t have, how were they to take their place in the life to come?  
They were at a juncture we usually try to ease in helping them get to Higher Education with as little trouble as can be.Their worries were not about what was happening to them now, as they dealt with the situation rather stoically, but rather with the outcome of their studies, would they be accepted without the normal diploma? What would their graduation be worth? 
Our bi-weekly exchanges on Zoom, through virtual communication, were actually more profound life lessons than solely literary analysis, for instance, by fluke we were studying ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood, and the relevance of this ‘global lockdown’ took on a much more realistic content, the Republic of Gilead suddenly took the shape of the global shutdown we were living right now.
We knew that no matter how remote the place, in the furthest villages of France, India, Bolivia, Africa and small towns USA, everywhere where we knew people, the instructions/restrictions were the same. We were actually witnessing a real time uniformization of the society, planetwide, whereas in Gilead it was only the USA, and Canada was the land of the free… 

Another embarrassment came to the forefront, as our modems and routers were not equally powerful leading to poorer communication from one student to another. The socio-economic disparities were again made cruelly obvious with unstable connections and computers that were not up to date for the online conference media. In a similar area of disparities, the more tech savvy students could outdo the others in communicability. And so we were led to wonder whether the 5G environment was going to advance our lives and whether it would be a fair tech access to all. 

As a writer, involved in distance communication with loved ones, I had always questioned veracity of sentiments when they are conveyed through tech means, that was the existential question at the root of my poem Skype Tear:

Now that I have been forced to hone my opinion on my experience, both in terms of my personal relationships and with regards to my relation with the students, I can feel the lack growing by the day. The parents ask us to communicate on a daily basis and guide them to manage this new educational avenue, but we too are probing. Not wanting to be over alarmist, I find this self-isolation time has exposed the infringement of tech on our intimate lives.
We made do at the onset, but as time unfolds, my students have openly complained of being away from their peers, and from us, their professors, they want human teachers, they want in situ lessons, they want to feel our respective auras that allows the intuitive intelligence to circulate between us. 

What I want now is for our Governments to take back from the Tech corporations the power to govern that they have lost, and if they can succeed in this Herculean task, give Education its well-deserved place. Thus, having had to transform a circumstantial and exceptional time into a long-lasting mode of communication (we are in our sixth lockdown week now), I have to bring the positive answer in my poem Skype Tear under a new, dimmer light and hope that I resonate with people around the world for a necessary restart, because we are at a tipping point, and this time, tech vigilance is our duty to a humanist world.

Karine Leno Ancellin is a professor, a freelance writer and translator. She is also involved in poetry in Athens, where, in association with Angela Lyras, she created A Poets’ Agora, a bilingual Poetry society.