ZOOMing Out or ZOOMing In

The phone call, texting and FaceTime remain as permanent fixtures in the COVID-19 context.  Wait time for smart phone orders have substantially increased due to overwhelming demand.  At work and at home, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated online platforms to replace face to face communication of small and large groups.  ZOOM took an early lead in the group meeting due to the ease of use.  Security requirements provided a stumbling block early in the game but they quickly pivoted to remedy the problem.  The culture of ZOOM is now the reference point for online communication of groups.  The Ministry of Education in British Columbia purchased it for all educators in British Columbia.  The Canadian Government is also using it for meetings.  How this culture of online meetings endures post COVID-19 will be interesting to watch.

There are days when I can’t bear the thought of another online meeting.  The Vancouver School Board has invested and is committed to the TEAMS platform.  In the name of good communication, there are TEAMS meetings with the District Management Team, our school staff, the Health and Safety Committee, the Finance Committee, the Tech Committee, School Based Team, Articulation with the Secondary School and any other group who might want to connect online.  In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the barrage of information is so overwhelming, that these meetings are required to focus attention on the most pertinent facts in our school context.  In what seemed like overnight, teachers also set up their classrooms to connect on TEAMS classroom and ensure a continuity of learning.  As a school principal, part of the job description is knowing and supporting what is going on in classrooms.  More online meetings.

I believe in post COVID-19 days, we will become much more demanding about what we expect from online communication.  No camera on your computer.  It’s obsolete.  Get a new one.  Not enough bandwidth – get it!  Can’t facilitate interaction. Switch to a platform that can.  Use is not intuitive.  New platform required.  Not a good use of the precious time that exists – don’t have the meeting.  Send an email.   One of the best decisions of the Vancouver School Board has been to upgrade obsolete technology.  Yes, I feel a certain ruthlessness is in order to cull the online frustrations and the sheer quantity of online interactions.

We will also need to think ahead to the situations that online communication serves.  Specific information to focus attention on in the COVID-19 context can be effectively delivered using an online platform, especially when there is a recording where information can be reviewed.  However it would not be my first choice.  The presenter is not able to read the audience or keep up with reading the “chat” on the sidebar.  I feel like I’m talking into an abyss when I’m chairing these meetings.  A slide deck presentation or powerpoint meeting lends itself to disengagement.  On a platform that necessitates all participants to turn off microphones and videos to allow conductivity, disengagement is too easy.  Participants are logged in as attending and then free to clean the desk, answer the quick question of the visiting tradesperson, or deal with a multitude of other pressing issues.   If engagement is key, the online option is not ideal.  The time spent moving back and forth into another room for discussion does not feel like the best use of time.

Some things just don’t feel good online.  Book Club will never be replaced by the online option.  The fluid conversation that emerges in a person to person context can’t be mirrored online.  The spontaneity of the conversation is stifled by the unmuting and polite turn taking of the online conversation.  The over layering of response and affirmation is missing.  Perhaps this takes time.  I recently was part of a Kindergarten Show and Tell session.  The teacher has been amazed how the interaction between students has changed over time.  However my vote in the future will be for face to face social clubs.

Cocktail hour on-line with the girls may become a permanent fixture.  Online will never replace the getting dressed up, going to a great restaurant, ordering vastly overpriced wine or drinks with names, and just catching up.   That is an institution to be revered.  However the online purge allow for the exhale.  The “let me tell you all about the woes of my world”.  The sympathetic online hug.  The empathetic and affirmative sharing.  And the laughter.  The cathartic release can be shared over miles.  Fit into small spaces.  Allow you to avoid rush hour.  Make you feel supported.  It has a place.

Yoga studio closures have had a huge impact.  My Semperviva monthly fee was taken from the bank and within days, all four sites disappeared.  My coveted points evaporated never to be traded in for that bolster to replace the one I lost.  It has been the smaller studios who most easily pivoted.    I discovered my temporary Office Admin. Assistant, Alex, was amazing with her accounting AND a yoga instructor offering online yoga classes through the Ocean and Crow, a small studio on Commercial Drive.  A great online class.  Nikki even includes a Spotify playlist to enhance the experience.  Now if I nod off to sleep during Yin yoga at the end of the night, I am so much closer to my bed!  This has enduring possibilities.

Iconic Ron Zalko Gym, which has been a permanent fixture in Kits, closed its doors as per Health regulations.  Nothing.  My upstairs neighbour invited me to her ZOOM fitness classes.  Great high energy classes.  The only problem is it’s too easy to turn off the video and opt out of the hard parts.  I clearly need the public shaming of the group in order to keep going.  In Taiwan, the gyms have stayed open through out COVID-19.  My daughter has her temperature taken with the no touch thermometer on her way in and everyone wipes down equipment as they go along.  I would love to see this happen in Vancouver.  Fingers crossed that the owners are giving Ron Zalko a break on his rent so the gym can open up soon.   Clearly I need the motivation.

What will be most enduring will be the opening up of possibilities.  Illness.  Visiting sick relatives in far away lands.  Reporting to school sick.  All of these have been issues to surmount in the school system.  I learned as a neophyte teacher that it was way more work to prepare for a “Guest” (aka replacement) teacher, than to just go to work when I was sick.  In our society, it has also been framed as a badge of honour to do whatever it takes to get the job done in the face of adversity.  A zero policy for sickness in the workplace or classroom, will change how we do school.  Bottom line, if you are sick, you stay home.  Continuing to use of online platforms will help to address these issues.  Teachers will be able to ensure the continuity of learning in the classroom.  Students will be able to engage in learning when they are not physically present.

Marking the occasion or the event while not physically present will perhaps be the most significant shift.  Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, I would not have been able to personally attend my niece, Mallory’s, graduation in Veterinary Medicine at Oklahamo State University.  It is just after Spring Break and Staffing time in the school system in Vancouver, British Columbia.  But it is a big deal.  My sister sent me that invitation with the magic link.  I could sign on.  Wait with rapt attention for her name and pic to flash on the screen.  Have my moment.  Bond with Ian, my tech guy who happened to be on site to see my eyes well up with tears.  Grab the screen shot.  Feel like a very good auntie.  Feel included in the event.

As we move into the post – COVID-19 world, we will have an increased array of how we communicate and connect.  We will have higher expectations for online platforms and different perspectives when considering purposes and options for meetings, participation in school, and celebrations.  This opens up new possibilities for not only for work meetings, but also for graduations, weddings, christenings and other significant events.  What I do know for sure is that face to face adds a depth to human interactions that online communication will never parallel.  However we will have “next best” options in our toolkit.

 

 

 

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