I spent most of last semester staring at a computer screen, longing for the days of in-person classes. “Zoom just isn’t the same,” I told myself. “Where’s the connection, the human interaction?” I knew what I was searching for couldn’t be found in yet another awkward breakout room.
December came and went and the spring semester arrived with promises of new beginnings. All I had to do was get through two weeks of online classes and then I would be home free. But as I settled into that same old chair, in my same old room, in front of the same old screen, something, somehow, felt different. There was a sense of familiarity, the comforting hug of routine. I felt like a freshman who had grown into a sophomore. I knew these virtual hallways, I had the lay of the land, nothing could phase me now.
As the days passed, I began to find online classes, dare I say… pleasant? I was suddenly killing it in breakout rooms, starting up conversations, making new friends and throwing myself whole-heartledly into my studies. “New year, new man,” I thought. “I’m going to make the best of it.”
As in-person classes began to approach, I was having second-thoughts. If I was being honest, I liked being able to wake up five minutes before class, roll out of bed, and attend class in pajama bottoms and slippers. I didn’t miss the mad dash between classes when a professor’s lecture would go five minutes too long. Zoom was easy, efficient, the safe way out.
Nevertheless, on February 8, I mustered my courage. I suited up, grabbed my dusty backpack from the depths of my closet and donned just the right mask to complement my outfit. Look out world; here I come.
I entered Park, hit by a wave of nostalgia that quickly dissipated into a meager mist. The halls were dark and silent. There was no annoyingly long line outside of the coffee stand. No throngs of people crowded outside the Park auditorium, blocking my way. Somewhat disappointed, I continued on.
Entering class, I looked around at the five students scattered throughout the room, glued to their screens, headphones in. No professor in sight. I was somewhat prepared for this reality. Our professor had told us our class would be split into two rooms to better accommodate social-distancing, and of course, she couldn’t be in two places at once. But I hadn’t fully grasped what this meant yet.
Per the instructions on the white-board, I logged onto Zoom, where I was greeted with a sense of déjà vu. All of my classmates were online, tucked in their neat little boxes, staring back at me from their respective screens as my professor droned on about the day’s to-do list.
Then, it hit me. Because we were in two classrooms and some students were remaining remote for the whole semester, class would still have to take place largely on Zoom. Once again, I found myself tasked with muting and unmuting, raising virtual hands and completing online assignments. Here I was, finally sitting in a classroom, but still confined to the virtual domain.
I was shook, to say the least. I thought I had seen the worst of what Zoom had to offer but this… this was somehow WORSE than remote learning!
At least last semester, I could relax in the comfort of my own home, turn off my camera and silently scream into my pillow when things got to be too much.
But this? Walking all the way to class, being tested twice a week, risking getting Covid, just to do the same damn thing in a different room? This was NOT what I had signed up for.
I lamented silently until class finished and we logged off Zoom. One by one, my classmates stood up and left in silence. Most immediately checked their phones, presumably scrolling through Twitter, sending texts to friends. I remained seated, processing it all. I thought I had escaped remote learning. I thought I was done with Zoom. I thought this was the end of the virtual world. Now, as I looked around, I realized, it was only beginning.