From the Desk of Dr. Nesbitt: Open letter to the UNYP students

Dear Students,

 

By the time you read this, you will have finished a unique and unexpected journey. For some the first phase, for others the second. Studying online was a journey no one asked for, not you, nor your instructors, nor the school administration. However you choose to reflect on it, whether you disliked it, enjoyed it, or felt neutral about it, you will likely never forget it. This time will stay somewhere in your memories for the rest of your lives. To paraphrase the great Prague poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in the end it is the journey that matters, and that journey is the one within. 

I got to know some of you well on the journey. For many I got to know you for the very first time. When you can look into someone’s eyes without fear as they speak, are not interrupted by other elements, and feel safe in your immediate surroundings, intellectual discussion can be very strong. Many of you have heard estimates of up to 90% of interpersonal communication being non-verbal, and although part of that figure is of course made up by olfactory and other senses which cannot be mediated, these same senses are also often inhibitors to communication. By switching on your camera for every class, you clearly communicated you were ready to engage and cooperate with your peers, refusing to let conditions beyond your control restrict you in our collective journey toward knowledge and understanding. Empathy is communicated powerfully this way, and even though it is only a camera, the people you are participating with remember your commitment very, very well.

I worried about some of you. Sometimes you looked lonely, and a little sad. Maybe it was because you had shared that you were a long way from home, and uneasy with the information you were being bombarded with about the situation outside. Maybe it was because you were up all night watching Netflix. Whatever the reason, I was genuinely glad to see you when you showed up each week, and those dumb jokes I tried to make really were an attempt to lighten things up for you. I will miss not seeing you next week, and will be wondering if you are ok, and staying positive.

Sometimes you seemed a little annoyed. You said you felt the volume of class work was being increased. Some suggested it was being done to make up for not being in class. I tried to explain that is was good for you, and fended off your looks of incredulity! In reality, it was a subjective feeling caused by the more inclusive nature of interaction brought by the technology: In class, only one person can speak at a time, and if 25 voices were to be heard, nothing else would happen. Online, 25 voices can be heard. For me as an instructor, this is nothing short of a miracle! Students I had never heard speak before were participating, and learning! It was fantastic to read your ideas, and I spent probably far too much time poring over them. Maybe you hated it – it is without debate a lot more work to organize your thoughts and write them, and respond to others, but compare that to sitting in a lecture and never uttering a word. Rest assured that you are stronger for this effort. It was a massive workload increase for me too, but I do not regret it for a second, every minute reading your work was for me well spent.

It is impossible to predict the future. It may just be that in 45 days our journey will continue via information technology again, but as Heraclitus told us long ago, you never step in the same river twice – the river has changed, and so have you. Next time will be different. You are better, stronger, and faster with tools that are inevitably here to stay. The unexpected journey has made you grow in ways you could never have expected, and possibly still don’t realize.

I would like to thank you for rising to the occasion, and actively participating in the class. I am confident we are all richer as a result of your engagement.

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