This week it is impossible to avoid the reality of coronavirus. At school, my usually funny, tough, boisterous teenage students are feeling anxious and vulnerable. They are asking questions that I can’t answer, looking for reassurance. Already all of the events we have been planning for have been cancelled, and as teachers, we are planning for the very real possibility that classes will be cancelled soon.
This is of course impacting education and industry all over the country and the world. We are hearing about virtual conferences and meetings, social distancing, and self-isolating. This may bring about a sea change in the way we think about teaching and learning, meeting, conferencing, socializing, and basic human connection. Much the way the events of 9/11 were unprecedented, forever changing certain protocols in our lives, this virus could have a similar effect.
In his article, Emory notes that location-based VR is being impacted, as people can’t and don’t want to use equipment that others have used, even with disinfecting procedures in place. But this could be the time to improve upon social VR platforms as a way to bring people together. I think of our virtual meeting experience last fall, and how fun and interesting that was to attend.
For many years now, social media has been a way for people to connect. Although we often are critical of Twitter and Facebook, perhaps this is the time to create something new, a new way for people to connect that doesn’t mine our data, or create hostilities.
Right now, my school district is assessing how many students have access to internet and devices at home. In a rural state like Maine, not everyone has access. Some of us (but not all) are already familiar with both learning and teaching in an online format. This may be the time to make sure that everyone does have internet access going forward, that even basic devices are available, and that as a population, we have a basic level of computer literacy. The New York Times has posted a page of resources that students can use: writing prompts, videos, contests to enter work into. The page is updated to offer current information, but still some people will be left behind without digital connectivity.
While right now safety and health precautions take top priority, I hope that going forward we acknowledge that working, teaching, learning, and connecting remotely may be necessary, and make the effort to help everyone be able to do that.
Emory, C. The Corona Virus and Virtual Reality, Digital Bodies, 3/7/20
Shulten, K. Coronavirus Resources: Teaching, Learning and Thinking Critically, New York Times, 3/13/20