OPINION: It Doesn’t Feel like School and I Love It

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Hailey Stessman
OPINION EDITOR

A relaxed and natural conversation facilitated in the classroom has encouraged me to speak up more often as a student. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

I’ve always been a quiet student. From grade school all the way to college, raising my hand in class was a daunting gesture. I often tumbled over my words, and nothing could stop the crimson red splotches from blooming upon my cheeks once I was called on. My voice has the tendency to be quiet and seldom understood as my hesitation inhibits my ability to articulate my answers. Participation points are my worst nightmare, and although I have improved my capabilities in contributing to class, the thought of speaking up still causes my palms to sweat.

It wasn’t until I began taking courses in my desired career field that I became more vocal during class discussions. Unsure of whether to credit my slightly increased confidence to my growth as an individual or on the interesting content of my courses, I decided not to dwell on it and ran with this miniscule courage in fear of succumbing to my anxieties again.

But before I could show up to the semester with this newly acquired determination to speak up, something stood in my way: a pandemic. Surprise, surprise.

Once classes were switched to an online format, I quickly learned that communicating through a screen that often buffers and disconnects proved to be much harder than anticipated. I didn’t know when it was acceptable to speak up or when it was appropriate to interject. Should I raise my hand or unmute myself and blurt out some nonsense with the hope that someone understood me? It was an entirely new experience that I had to learn, and with that came more anxieties.

Before the pandemic forced us to socialize in a socially distanced manner, I was not too fond of Facetime. Although the only difference between Facetime and speaking in-person is the added distance and a screen, I felt incredibly awkward. Where was I supposed to look? At me or your face? Am I speaking too loud? Who’s listening to our conversation? Is it okay if there’s a period of silence?

This culmination of worries and anxieties carried over into the remote setting of university through Zoom. Rarely did I unmute myself and engage in the conversation between my fellow students and professors. Similar to sitting at a desk with a dozen pairs of eyes glued on me with my mouth agape, I felt, and to this day feel, a deep pressure in my chest with being put on the spot. However, this semester there is a glimmer of hope that I hope extends to the manner in which Zoom classes are held.

It is the first time in my college career where a class does not feel like a ‘traditional class’, and I love it. During my Art & Visual Culture class with professor Adrian Duran, there are no boundaries. There is no prescribed format or framework to the hour and forty minutes we spend together. Instead from the moment we log on, the conversation flows freely as though we were all catching up at our local coffee shop. Awkward silences are minimal and are replaced with anecdotes and laughter shared over jokes. The chat feature on Zoom is packed with students exchanging meme references and side conversations.

At first glance, it may seem as though we are not really ‘learning’ or being constructive with our time. However, I beg to differ. By allowing students to find a rhythm of conversation, similar to the nature of a Twitter timeline, it creates a space free of judgement and pressure. Throughout the duration of the class, I found myself outwardly responding to the discussion and entering my own discourse into the chat (A simple “da vinky?” in the chat seemed to suffice). Even though plenty of tangents were formed and pursued, we always found a way to relate it to the core focus of the class: how do we as a culture consume art through outlets such as fandoms, social media, and trends.

If all courses followed the same approach as practiced in my Art & Visual Culture class, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the immense pressure I carry as a student. What if professors chose to speak alongside and with their students rather than directly to them? What if tangents were invited instead of frowned upon? What if the channels of communication and learning went both ways?

Perhaps participation points wouldn’t be so scary anymore.

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