Surprises in a Virtual Classroom

Communication Journalism
June 2, 2020

Logan Agin ‘20, communications major with a concentration in narrative journalism, wrote a story for her class about how she adds unexpected twists to her virtual discussions. We bring you her story here.

I sometimes log into my online class with a secret. Well, maybe not a secret, but a surprise.

If we were Zooming together, you would see me sitting at my desk in my childhood bedroom, with a framed high school photo of my brother kicking a soccer ball hanging on the blue wall behind me. But I like to cover it up or take it down for class. The first time I did this, I placed a lei on the tiny nail attached to the frame and hoped my classmates would notice it dangling behind me. Since then, I’ve gotten more creative for my webcam peers.

I’ve added a green lawn gnome on the dresser just below the frame, and brought out a taco piñata. I even hung my three-foot inflatable Spiderman from the nail, covering up my brother’s picture.

Once, I taped an eight-by-ten copy of my roommate’s roster picture for the golf team, which hung in our college apartment. She thought it was funny and begged me not to say anything so no one else would notice her in my background.

I thought this shtick might add some joy to our virtual classroom, where temporary homes for quarantine —childhood bedrooms, parents’ living rooms — occupy students’ webcam frames.

A few people text me, laughing when they see the surprise in my bedroom. Most people don’t say anything, but I at least hope they notice and smile.

Eventually, I took this ritual to my other virtual events. For my friend’s birthday party I wrote “Happy Birthday!” on a dry erase board and hung it on my wall. There were so many people in the chat room, squares of smiling faces and homey backgrounds, that he didn’t notice it at first. But, when I finally pointed it out, his face melted into a big smile and he laughed. Even though we were hundreds of miles apart, it felt like we were in the same room.

I hang photos of my college friends who are now hundreds of miles away, miscellaneous objects that belonged to the dorm room in which I no longer live. Many of these objects are from celebrations or inside jokes with friends, all signifying memories from my nearly four full years at Denison University, which was interrupted by a campus-wide evacuation due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Many of these objects are from celebrations or inside jokes with friends, all signifying memories from my nearly four full years at Denison University”

The ways that we have to connect now are very different than they were a few weeks ago, but we are still able to make do. The stuff that I am putting in my background works as a reminder of what I left behind at school, or a recreation of my college experience.

Instead of going to trivia night at the local bar, we now have trivia night on Zoom. Instead of meeting up at the gym, we can share our workouts online. Even though we are thousands of miles away from one another, we still find a way to stay together.

But not everything can be moved from real life to online. With my bed five steps away, instead of the usual quarter mile, it’s harder to motivate myself to do my work everyday. Instead of walking across campus, I just have to roll out of my bed ten minutes before class starts. I trudge to the bathroom and brush my teeth. If I am feeling extra motivated, I could also brush my hair. I grab my coffee, sit down at my desk, and log into class.

I no longer pass my friends in front of Slayter between classes. I can’t take photos from the sidelines at spring sports events. And, I can’t walk across the stage to graduate and receive my diploma.

I didn’t expect to spend the last three months of my college career at home. I want nothing more than to be able to safely be on campus among those who I have grown close to over the past four years. But I’m just thankful to be able to connect with my classmates and professors online and bring some joy and surprises to them. Raising the stakes for my background decor makes virtual school a little more enjoyable.

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