While I was catching up on reading and responding to student introductions in
my online section of HU211 (Intro to Humanities) this
morning, our guest visited the back porch and set out with his ritual morning
mewl. Through the crying, which, without any change in pitch or volume,
seemed to escalate into a blaring feline yawp over time, I read about one
student who is mid-way through his USMC career and just two courses from a BA in
Emergency Management. His introduction (a brief, paragraph-or-so sketch)
was comparatively candid when read alongside those of peers. He mentioned
living in an inherited house in a sluggish Pennsylvania town, while waiting for
FEMA to start hiring again.
When teaching online courses, I find that early term interactions
significantly condition the level of engagement throughout the accelerated eight
week term. No surprising discovery here. I’ve been at it for two
years now, experimenting with my role in these courses, and when I jump in early
with frequent and substantive posts–as instructor–the course reflects the
stimulus and the threaded discussions are considerably more vibrant. In
comparable f2f courses, I have found the class benefits from a solid starts, but
it’s possible for the course take off even if I moderate my presence, my role as
“teacher,” into something less visible, less assertively
authoritative. This has me thinking about the relation of physicality and body
language to teaching presence in f2f courses and how those issues compare for
online courses (where the teaching is variously present through photos,
biographical blurbs, threaded interactions, and rigid curricular content).
In other words, where is the teacher’s “body” in online education; is
it an imagined corpus extending from the factors listed here? Stamped by
the discipline or the institution?
I responded to the student with a few details about my pre-academic
professional life, brief as it was. (Hell, my work isn’t neatly academic
now, either.) I told him about intervening with crises as an independent
claims handler in Saginaw and Detroit, about the need to hire security to
protect burnt property in Detroit until the site could be evaluated, damage
assessed, splash digs concluded to rule out arson. No security could mean
a second wave of damage: copper pipes, siding, plumbing fixtures all gone.
What good are they in a burnt building, after all?
It’s good news that FEMA’s not hiring, I told the student, noting that it is
bittersweet that national crises are well in hand. Ahem. Or maybe
it’s just that current national crises can’t be helped by kind of assistance
FEMA provides. In my own back yard, literally, the crisis is the regular
screeching visitor. Feed it? Invite it inside? Dot
has already given the collar-less, claw-wielding cat a name: Pepe.
Cute. And she’s fed it tuna fish. Phillip, our son, helped.
But they’re both allergic to cat dander, and our aging Yorky can’t bear the
stress, and I’m superstitious about keeping it, feeding it, looking at it, heck,
even knowing it’s around. But is it worse to get rid of a black cat? I
don’t even want to tamper with it. Throwing cold water at it crossed my
mind; that’s what my folks always did to send strays on the way. But it’s
below freezing; we don’t want a frozen cat on our porch. Tried calling
Wayside Waifs and the vet to learn about alternatives. The whole thing has
me feeling uneasy. Should return to course prep–bury myself in work–to avoid
the issue altogether, except for its chilling dirge.