What online school lacks

I’m currently in the 10th week of my fully online semester of school. Studying and taking classes from the comfort of my bedroom has its plus points. From a purely academic standpoint, it might even be better. Everyone is muted so you don’t have to worry about chatty groups sitting near you. Everyone’s camera is off so they can’t distract you and the only possible distraction you have is your computer or your phone, which are also present in physical lectures. It’s easier to ask questions in a lecture because using the Zoom chat is way less intimidating than raising your hand in a room of 200 people. I also save a ton of money because I don’t have to travel or eat out every day. Yet I just can’t help but feel that there’s something missing, and these tradeoffs aren’t worth it.

I chanced upon a video reflection of sorts by John Fish titled “The Mundanity of Online School“, and he really helped put into words what I’ve been feeling about my semester thus far. He mentioned that the digital world is simply unable to fully capture the richness of reality, it can only provide a compressed version of it. I have some pictures of the Great Ocean Road from my trip to Melbourne last year. They’re lovely to look at, but it’s not the same as actually being there and seeing it with my own eyes! The cool sea breeze, the smell of the sea, and the sound of the waves. These things are lost when the experience gets compressed into a picture.

Similarly, many seemingly insignificant aspects of physical classes get compressed when adopting an online format. In some lectures, all you get is the professor’s voice coupled with some slides. In most tutorials, everyone’s cameras are off, including the tutor’s! Most students prefer to use the Zoom chat rather than the mic. You might argue that this is essentially all you need to learn, everything else is secondary. But to me, it just feels so cold and dull. 10 weeks into school and I do not even know what my classmates look or sound like. I’ve never seen my tutors’ faces, just their names.

Human interaction is and should be an insanely rich experience. Beyond verbal speech, we communicate through body language, facial expressions and many more subconscious subtleties. These are the things that are compressed and lost in the digital medium, at least for now. And it’s these same things that give classes and lectures that human touch, which I think makes a world of difference. In fact, the classes I enjoy most are those which require us to turn on our cameras and participate actively. Maybe I’m just lonely.

Anyway, if like me, you’ve been beating yourself up about being lazy, unmotivated, or extremely bored, don’t be too hard on yourself. Online school is tough. It might not be the season to make new friends, so instead why not appreciate the friendships you currently have.

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves