With the Coronavirus in full swing, the university where I work has shut down face-to-face classes and moved everything online. We now teach our students from the enclosure of our offices. Last summer, I finished a doctorate in online education with an emphasis on technology, so this situation provides an opportunity to use the training I received.
As the university decided to shut down our face-to-face classes, I quickly realized my computer camera was mediocre at best. My department committed to purchasing new equipment, including better webcams and document readers. But that ran into an immediate snag, as many other schools did the same thing. Most items were put on backorder and will not arrive until after the semester is over.
I spent hours testing for the best camera angle and the best lighting for illuminating my whiteboard. I created guidelines, documents, and software for my students who would need them. I sent out emails with step-by-step instructions for the students to join me for our first class together.
There were a few snags I had to iron out, but by the time I taught my first set of online classes, things went well. I made mistakes, but I had set a second computer in the background and logged it in as a student. With this computer I could see what the students saw and quickly knew if something was wrong. Some students struggled with the change, but most accepted it quite well.
While I was working through this, I thought of my mother and her reluctance to accept new technology. It was her ninety-fourth birthday just a couple of weeks ago. For Christmas two years ago, my sister gave Mom an Alexa so Mom wouldn’t feel so alone in her apartment. The first time Alexa talked to Mom, she was frightened and thought there was an intruder in her apartment. It took her a while to calm down and get used to Alexa, but she finally did.
Back when Mom lived by us, she would come over for dinner, and my teenage daughter would tell Mom the newest jokes she had heard. One day Mom called, and I had the phone on speaker. When she found out that my daughter could hear her, she said, “Elli, check out this Alexa.”
Mom then asked Alexa to tell her a joke. When Alexa finished, Mom laughed and laughed. But Alexa was clear across the room, so the only words I could make out from the joke were “the Beatles.” I asked Mom what the joke was, and she said, “I don’t know. I didn’t get it.”
It was just a machine talking to her that she found funny.
Last fall, I picked Mom up, and we drove four hours to a wedding. I was not familiar with the address, so when we got to the city where the wedding was, I turned on Google Maps.
Mom shook her head in disgust. “I don’t know why you use that foolish thing. I’m sure I can tell you directions better than that phone lady can.”
As we drove, the maps program said, “In 100 feet, turn right.”
“No, no, no!” Mom said. “That’s wrong. I used to come up here all the time.”
“But, Mom,” I said. “That was decades ago, and things change. The computer has it all programmed in.”
“Well, I don’t trust her,” Mom said. “I’m sure she’s taking us the wrong way.”
About that point, Mom remembered that she had wanted to stop and get a wedding card.
“No problem,” I said. “I will just have my phone tell us where the nearest drug store is.”
The phone said there was one just fifty feet ahead on the left.
Mom let out a disgusted grunt. “Now you’ll see how stupid your phone lady is. There’s no drug store within ten miles of here.”
Mom was just finishing saying that as I turned the car into the parking lot of the drug store. Mom looked up and saw where we were, and as she turned and scowled at me, I didn’t even dare smile.
Mom glared at me and said, “And just for your information, I still don’t trust her.”