Discussion is a regular part of undergraduate and graduate education. There's a simple recipe:
Step 1: everyone reads a text.
Step 2: everyone gets together to talk about that text.
In my experiences as a student and an instructor, that simply recipe can yield varying and often mediocre results. As a student, I remember anxiously waiting for instructors to cut off talkative bloviators and trying to guess what the heck was in my instructor's head. As an instructor, I have anxiously poured over papers to try to figure out which questions will elicit responses from my quieter students and how to get everyone interested in old, poorly written academic articles. In both roles, I have been spent lifetimes waiting for someone, anyone to respond to questions.
Partly because I complained about poor discussions as a student, I have faced this format with reluctance as an instructor. I have tried lots of different ways to shake things up. This semester, I finally felt like I got the conversation going.
This past week, I attended the 48th annual meeting and first ever virtual meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association. I entered with more than a bit of hesitance about spending another chunk of my week interfacing with Zoom, perhaps even more reluctant because I had heard how awkward and stilted the Zoom conference could be. What I experienced was, sure, a bit awkward in comparison to the normal conference ritual but ultimately, very rewarding.
Once or twice a year, we're supposed to go to the dentist. Once a year, we need to pay taxes, get our flu shots, clean off the desk in our office. The level of anticipation with which I became an online instructor was similar to these rites. Perhaps this was due to my limited experience as a (poor) online student.
One of my courses in undergrad, "Art, Pornography, Blasphemy, Propaganda", offered online lecture recordings for anyone who couldn't attend in person. Even in such a titillating subject, which was engrossing in person, online lectures hit me like the sad trombone of a Charlie Brown instructor. In graduate school, with a bit more scholastic maturity, I did pursue a handful of online seminars in teaching offered by the fantastic Center for Research in Teaching and Learning at the University of Michigan. And? More sad trombone noises. By the time Covid-19 was first replicating in China, I was 100% anti-online learning and hoped never to hear the words "online degree" ever again.
Bree is an Alaskan Archaeologist and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming.