Imagine a university classroom with 15 students sitting in a circle. The students are surrounded by blank walls, tables, a whiteboard and perhaps a projector. Some will be watching their phones screens, some sit with their legs crossed, some talk about an upcoming assignment deadline and others might be fidgeting with a piece of clothing or their hair. What they all have in common is the room they are in and the social position they have in that place. They are temporarily in the same context with shared understandings of behavioral codes and dress for example. In the classroom they are exposed to the same sounds, temperature, and notion of time. Here, teaching happens outside of the wider context of students’ lives.
Now imagine a Zoom tutorial with these same students. Fifteen small squares with faces and upper bodies. Voices when students are ‘unmuted’. And students appear with a background. Some are in spacious rooms with yellow walls, others are hardly visible in what seems a dark corner of an apartment, some sit on a couch, some sit outside in a yard or even on a boat, and it is possible to ‘zoom in’ while at work. Through the different backgrounds arrive different sounds. Birds chirping, wind blowing, room mates chatting, music playing, kitchen noises. Teaching happens in the wider context of students’ lives.
In the university, individual backgrounds are not as visible. The zoom squares expose personal circumstances and difference. It requires more effort to know what everyone has in common. What kind of connections are made here? What is the effect on teaching and learning?