By Carrie Heeter
Monday was the first day of the semester, and Monday night, 6:30 to 7:20, is the live component of hybrid TC841, my graduate design research class. Hybrid means a third of class time happens in person, and two-thirds online at the students’ convenience.
This is the first year my department (Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University) actually scheduled a class meeting time (yay!), meaning I did not have to begin by finding a time when every enrolled student was available to come to class. In prior years after I found a day and time every student could attend, we would squeeze into the GEL (Games for Entertainment and Learning) Lab conference room.
In spring 2009, we had an actual scheduled time AND place. Room 161 Comm Arts. The room has a projector. What luxury.
My department very generously lets me telecommute, but they do not consider it their responsibility to support my lack of physical presence in Michigan. So, as of Monday morning, I did not yet know how I was going to get to class from my office in San Francisco.
I saw that two students enrolled in TC841 had been my students in a class I taught in fall. Both had been gone over break so I waited to contact them until they returned. At 12:32 Sunday night, I emailed them to ask, “Do either of you have a laptop you would be willing to bring to class tomorrow night, to Skype me in?”
At 6:08pm Michigan time, I received an incoming Skype call. (Yay!) With some fumbling, my audio worked. He figured out how to connect to the classroom projector, and logged in to and opened Breeze, the TC841 blog, and ANGEL in separate browser windows. I got video of the class via YoungKim’s Skype.
My tablet PC was running Breeze for video (not audio). My desktop PC was running Skype for audio but no video (using a handheld mic) and a second Breeze connection as well as the blog and ANGEL.
Five minutes before class started, Breeze failed on the tablet PC, meaning they lost my video. Reconnecting never worked. My only connected camera was the laptop. But the Skype connection was to my desktop. Video of me was not going to happen.
I had forgotten that the last time I used Skype was showing it to Sheldon on his new laptop, and that while playing around I had turned my image upside down. So most of the class only saw me as a small upside down still image in the Skype window. I’m afraid to go check what I might have been wearing.
Students were still arriving, so some never saw me on video at all. I joked that I hadn’t had time to brush my hair but would be ready for video next week. It is unusual to be able to see the class when they can’t see me. Much better than not seeing them, that’s for sure. When one student walked into the classroom 10 minutes late, he entered a room with 13 students sitting at tables, looking at a projection screen. A disembodied voice (me) said, “Welcome to TC841! The students here are pretending there is a professor.”
Half an hour into class, one of my cats pried the office door open (which I had closed to keep them out). After meowing disruptively for a bit, she jumped onto my keyboard, switching the Breeze window to a mode I’ve never seen before, one where I could not control Breeze or change to any other windows on my computer. (Why would there be a “switch to larger than full screen and freeze all controls” special keystroke command? Just to give cats disruptive power, I think.) At that same moment a student who had logged in to Breeze (as I had proposed they do) took over Breeze and was playing around, resizing his video window, eliminating the class’ and my view of the PowerPoint.
After fumbling for a minute, I quit Breeze (command Q), went to the blog, and opened the PDF handout I had posted of the PowerPoint so I could know what else to talk about. Class moved into a lively discussion about “sampling” methods used in research about media design, and ended on time.
A good time was had by all.
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