April 15, 2024

Authentic Experiences in Online Learning : Look Behind you !

This post was triggered by an opinion piece entitled ‘ Instructors please wash your hair’ that I read in Inside Higher Ed that wound me up a bit.

I am definitely not alone in feeling this way, as there is certainly an interesting exchange of comments below the article.

The author of the piece has provided an explanation that it was written before all the COVID-19 stuff happened and seems to recognise that it is ill informed.

The piece itself is more aligned to a commentary that advocates for the need for educators to ‘exhibit professionalism’ and relates this mostly to the appearances of educators and how they are dressed, a line of argument for which I just have no words for given the current situation I am afraid, however, it did make me think about online social presence and how this relates to the environment that we find ourselves in, and how in turn this impacts on authenticity in online learning.

So, the main thing that it caused me to ponder on is that I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about those weird and wonderful backdrops and images that people can use to display behind them when on an online video session. I seem to have come across most of them when using Zoom but I’m sure it is something that can be done in other platforms.

I just don’t like fake backgrounds I’m afraid …

Personally, I really like being able to see the real life situation that people are conducting their session in. I just don’t like a fake background. I think it really helps to provide a connection and provide for a more human experience if you can relate to the person’s environment.

I can see that people might like the quirkyness and wizardry of being on the bridge of the starship enterprise or having some sort of calming beach scene behind them, but for me I just don’t like it – Yes it might act as an ice breaker and a moment of lightheartedness (which we can certainly all do with at the moment) and I can see that some people just don’t want to show their home environment ; I guess that there is also an argument for trying to remove some of the distraction of the real life environment but personally for me I think by removing the real life background and replacing it with a whacky image means that the host loses more than they gain ..

I actually like it when I can see the walls, bookshelves and even piles of washing behind the speaker and when the cat or dog does an appearance . Having the children wandering past the camera in the background isn’t a distraction to me, it shows that the person is real. I also really don’t mind it all if someone is wearing their pyjamas or hasn’t washed their hair.

“trying to remove ourselves from the environment that we exist in by putting up a background image will simply put up a barrier to that empathy.”

I believe all of this stuff adds to an authentic experience and enables a deeper connection between participants and educators alike. I think it enables empathy to appreciate the fact that there is often a lot of other stuff that is going on in peoples lives.

Don’t get me wrong. Maybe there is a place for fake backgrounds somewhere if it helps people feel more comfortable but personally I think that the current crazy world that we are finding ourselves living in will be helped by an empathetic connection, and trying to remove ourselves from the environment that we exist in by putting up a fake background image will simply put up a barrier to that empathy.

I definitely won’t be having a fake background anytime soon ..

So I will be wearing my unicorn slippers and probably a pink cardigan for my next synchronous session and I may even wash my hair .. I will probably also have bribed the kids to keep quiet and have pre- fed the cats so they don’t jump on the keyboard and cut me off, but if the dog appears she will say hello as usual and my very pink but definitely messy room will be on view and I definitely won’t be having a fake background anytime soon ..

Keep it real people … currently feeling very lucky and privileged to have a garden to sit in -something which is a luxury that is not available to many people right now …

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