I apologize in advance for the long post. Let's just say this is to make up for not posting at all for the past 8 or 9 months!
As you read, please maintain a kind eye, rather than a critical red-pen eye as this is simply a rough draft and first attempt at capturing what class was like last night.
The Other Side of the Screen
An account of being a participant in a face-to-face hybrid synchronice class session via iPad for Go-to Meeting whole class work and laptop for Google Hangout small group sessions
April 3, 2013
I sit in my silent room, ear-buds planted firmly in my ears, ipad glowing with the Go-To Meeting flower and log-in information screen, laptop screen flashing with six separate invitations for Google Hangouts… I’m ready for my fifth of six face-to-face synchronous class session for the Spring EPET course, CEP 901. I’m excited to be with my classmates, to see them and discuss my learning with them. I’m excited to see our instructors and to hear their take on what we read last week, knowing I will want to take notes and remember the words they say! I log into the meeting with my iPad but wait to select my first Google Hangout on my laptop because I don’t want both devices accessing my video and audio right now.
I recognize that it’s time to start class because Cary starts to welcome everyone. I focus in on the iPad screen, looking closely at one of the six video boxes showing Cary, another showing the classroom. I can hear voices in the on-campus classroom telling Josh happy birthday and even though I’d like to unmute my mic and happily give a quick shout-out –birthday-greeting to Josh, I stay silent. I scan the familiar faces of a few hybrid classmates that are captured in the remaining video screens, my own face occupies one and every other minute I look at me and fix my hair or reposition my camera. I smile knowing how much I enjoy seeing my classmates and do my best to ignore the box that mirrors me.
“Welcome everyone, today is Tuesday, so… happy Tuesday!” Cary begins class. He continues, “It’s time to check in with your base groups. Tonight I would like you to consider……”
My iPad freezes.
I’m left, in my silent room, wondering what I’m supposed to consider. I frantically try to get my iPad working but quickly give up knowing there’s nothing I can do about my slow Internet connection and limited bandwidth so I switch to my laptop and quickly join my Google Hangout to check in with base group six.
I am the last to join the hangout, Colin in Colorado, Yining in Michigan as our on-campus base-group member and I in Nevada quickly start greeting each other with sincere pleasantries as we are truly interested in visiting with one another, we have become friends. I quickly ask Yining, “What were we suppose to consider? My iPad froze up again.” She quickly replies by restating the instructions and we quickly begin our discussion. As we talk, Cary joins our group. He sits next to Yining, sharing her screen. As he casually joins our conversation I hear the old familiar sounds of an old-fashioned typewriter. I know Cary is talking to our group right now but I’m distracted by the typewriter. Who in the world would be typing on an old-fashioned typewriter and why can I hear the “click-click…click-click-click…click” of them typing. When I notice the conversation break, I jump in, hoping not to interrupt anyone else that plans to talk, “who’s typing on an old-fashioned typewriter?” I say out of the blue. The looks on Cary and Yining’s faces are priceless. After a small pause they try to connect this miscellaneous comment to their thoughts, Cary smiles sheepishly and says, ”Oh… that’s a camera.” We all chuckle a bit and wrap up our conversation with Cary as he departs from our group.
My eyes catch a glimpse of the iPad screen, the Go-to Meeting is running again. I had forgotten to mute that devices audio and a loud screech pierces the ears of all the classmates. I embarrassingly mute the iPad, happy to be on my side of the screen, and no longer on the Go-to Meeting video so the others can’t see my red face. I try to refocus with my base-group and Yining announces, “I think Cary is going to start talking again.” This is my cue to mute the laptop and focus on the iPad for the next part of tonight’s class. I do this with automaticity and reflect on how only three meeting ago switching from one device to the other created a cognitive load that limited my attention to class. I am relieved that my abilities to adapt have improved so quickly.
Cary addresses the entire class once again and I am once again looking at the six small video screens like before, but this time I notice a few new faces from the hybrid group as we have recognized that we need to occasionally show up on video but at other times turn our video off so others can have a turn to be seen. I remember choosing to be invisible for a few of the meetings, never once selecting the video feed for Go-to Meeting. I didn’t want to be selfish and take the limited video space from my classmates. For the 5th meeting I decided I should stop being invisible because I didn’t want Cary and Chris to forget that I was on this side of the screen.
“Click-click-clickclickclick-click” the sounds of the camera blare into my silent room. I notice my annoyance but try to focus on Chris. She is talking now. She says something about Twitter and I can see within the small square of the one-out-of-six video screens that she occupies, a tiny whiteboard screen off to her left, displaying a slide-show of sorts with random tweets fading in and fading away. I can’t make out the words on the screen and at that moment I wish to be in the actual classroom, taking in the information from the projected images and from Chris. “Clickclick..click” a few more camera snaps pop off in between Chris’ comments. I’m not sure what she said other than that she was grateful to those of us that contributed to her Twitter challenge last week.
Switching devices once again, I eventually find myself back in a Google Hangout with my base-group. It’s time to share research reports. Again, the routine is established and this is an automatic function of one-at-a-time posting our Prezi links, waiting for our group members to access the Prezi and then beginning our report. We are careful to clearly articulate when to advance the Prezi slide so we are all on the same visual at the same time. The first few meetings we tried to screen share through Google Hangout but discovered our new way of sharing provided a better visual. Our work moves quickly and efficiently as Yining shares her report; we discuss her presentation, and transition to Colin’s Prezi to listen in on his report. I try to stay focused on Colin’s words but I hear chatter in the background, not from Colin’s space, but from Yining’s. Her mic is on and the high energy conversation from the campus classroom has started to ooze into my room. It’s not too loud but loud enough to be noticeable. We finish up with Colin’s report and it’s my turn. Again, we each access my Prezi from the link I provide, only to hear both Colin and Yining reply, “The link is broken, we can’t get into your Prezi.” My time has started, I only have five minutes to present. I quickly try to get them a different link, “Nope, doesn’t work” I hear them say over the top of the background classroom chatter, still oozing, invading, getting louder, disrupting my thoughts. Colin senses my discouragement most likely from recognizing the panicked face from my side of the screen. I’m starting to get upset as I imagine my presentation minutes melting away. He reminds me to click “Share” with my Prezi link rather than just copying and pasting the URL. Finally, with much relief, we all have access to my presentation and I start.
I speak loudly so everyone can hear. It seems silly, talking so loud in my silent room, but my room is no longer silent. The click…click…click of the camera continues and now it sounds like Cary is speaking to our base-group. I pause, minimize my Prezi and look at the Google Hangout video screen, expecting to see Cary sharing Yining’s video screen and am confused when I only see Yining. But, I hear Cary as if he were right there with us. What’s going on, I wonder. Then I realize, Yining has not muted her mic and Cary is talking with the group of students next to her. I am once again distracted and do my best to get back to my presentation as my minutes continue to dissolve away. I try to talk over Cary’s voice and stop again. It’s just not right sitting in my room physically alone and yelling. I stop and again Colin notices my discouragement and in his kind voice says, “Yining, would you please mute your mic?” It’s a quick fix and I’m back in my silent room but my mind is now on overload. I speed through the last few slides of my Prezi, knowing my attempt to pull off the report is inadequate.
Time is up, I feel defeated. I want to be invisible. Colin and Yining say nothing. We sit on our own sides of our own screens in silence.
With a few more “click click, clicks” of the old-fashioned-typewriter-sounding camera I am brought back to the reality that I am still in class and Yining has unmuted her mic and announced that Chris is going to talk to us again. I’m in a daze as I exit the Google Hangout and mindlessly access the Go-to Meeting on the iPad. I’m not thinking about anything. Nothing. I’m tired. I’m empty.
Class continues. We are more than half way done with our two hour session. Not surprisingly my iPad freezes again and I am left at the mercy of a single device. I try to hurry and access Go-to Meeting on my laptop, after minimizing my Google Hangout screen, only to find out that I have to download something, accept another thing, log in here, sign in there… it’s too much, I give up.
I notice my energy is gone, my happy disposition deflated, my mental focus completely off track but I know I have to do what I can to get what I can from tonight’s class. While still wondering in the back of my head what the hell is wrong with my iPad, I push forward and join my new Google Hangout group. Fresh faces! There are four of us: Emi, Jessica, Dan and me. We have a great discussion about our readings even though I fade in and out of the conversation, doing all I can to pretend that I’m all there.
Class is almost over. I’m down to one device. I’m completely drained. I’m not sure I learned anything new. I’m frustrated, but I persevere through the final part of class. Chris is talking now. As Dan goes to mute his mic I quickly catch his attention, “Dan! Will you please leave your mic on?” This sounds like a ridiculous request after being so frustrated when Yining would forget to mute her mic. “Dan, I need to hear what Chris is saying. Will you leave your mic open for me?” With a kind “sure” I watch as he repositions his physical focus toward Chris and his body slowly rotates to where all I can see is his back.
And there I sit, on my side of the screen, looking at Dan’s back and listening to Chris talk about her responses to our reading discussion posts. I am grateful to know that her responses can be found on our class website. With the assurance of knowing I can later read what she is now talking about I slowly let my thoughts drift away to the sounds of the last few “click…clickclickclick…clicks” of the camera and I start wondering what kind of shoes Dan wears because from the looks of his back he seems like a low-top Converse type of kid.
I find it interesting how sensitive I am to the surrounding sounds during our synchronous sessions. As I wondered why this might be, I started thinking about other situations where I am trying to participate in a conversation but am surrounded by white noise, for example, a busy cafeteria, the mall, the Hardrock Café in any city of your choosing! I can sit in any of these settings and have a conversation. From this reflection I wonder about the capability of defusing or canceling our surrounding noise when we are a member of the noise-making environment, thus, when an on-campus student is sharing their thinking with members of a Google Hangout, they may not be as sensitive to the surrounding sounds. They’ve successfully tuned them out. To the contrary, while I sit in an isolated silent setting, separate from the noise-making environment, any sound beyond that of the few voices I expect to hear as part of a conversation becomes difficult to cancel and are more likely to be amplified because of the silent environment I occupy.
This thinking also makes me consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and what parallels may exist to this situation. If it is true that problem solving and acceptance of facts occurs at the self-actualization level this means that our needs physiologically and for safety, love/belonging and esteem must be met before we can engage our minds for higher level thinking. This may be a huge leap, trying to connect the scenario described above to these levels of need, but I’m thinking a different hierarchical system of needs could be identified, specific to this learning environment, following the same idea that certain needs must be accounted for to engage in higher-levels of thinking.