Students out-of-joint

If, in this time of lockdown, we only have two external sources of communication left and these sources have to compensate each other, as we have seen before, the state of our offline domestic communication decides on what we need from online communication.

Over the last weeks, it has become even clearer than before that the state of the offline domestic communication varies wildly between for all of us. This also means that what we need to get out of online communication varies wildly. In this post we want to take a closer look at students since they do not get to choose their domestic situation nor do they have a definitive say in it.

In pre-lockdown times several external sources could be used to ascertain that all students enjoy a playing field ensuring them at least a minimum fulfillment of their vital needs. Offline and online informal communication with their peers and informal and formal offline and online communication with school representatives could at least partially make up for a lack of fulfillment at home. Now only online communication is available.

This situation is most difficult for those students who get little or no support at home. The only alternative for them is to get this support online, and as we have seen in our experiment with students who tried to be online-only: if communication online is understood simply as communication over a different channel, online-only communication feels as if the richness of life is sucked out of reality. Human contact seems to be reduced to a stream of boring information items to which we always react too late because it moves too fast to allow for sharing emotions, observations or little jokes at the exact moment it would make sense.  Since reactions and emotions seem to be out-of-joint, the whole experience is tiring and depressing.

The good practices that we have presented so far in this blog, such as giving each other ample time online, using a script that assures participants a minimum acknowledgement in online communication, a moderator who safeguards online safety, and providing regular evaluations are ways to try and reduce the out-of-jointness of online communication. These good practices all have two things in common: they need to be implemented by trained moderators, and they can only be effectively implemented by these moderators in smaller groups of a maximum of 16 participants. For most schools, this equals half a class.

Although teachers are fast learners and are adapting themselves quickly to the current situation, the smaller groups requirement means that for distant education, or emergency online education, many more teachers are needed if we want to prevent students in a non-supportive home situation to fall into a state of threatening dislocation. Considering the fact that even in pre-lockdown times there was a severe shortage of teachers, I’m afraid we need to brace for more psychological problems, more aggression and anti-social behavior, and more addiction among our youngsters.