Returning to study after my retirement, I soon found myself in a totally on-line learning environment due to COVID lockdowns. This has unexpectedly shown me how technology can amplify who teachers are and how that impacts on their students. Let’s take, for example, six of my recent tutors.

Alpha, Beta and Gamma had Zoom on a string, seamlessly dividing groups into breakout rooms, sharing resources and allowing active collaboration. They enabled surprisingly warm relationships between students despite our physical distance. They were, like Tolstoy’s happy families, happy in the same way while retaining distinct individual personalities.

Conversely, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta were like Tolstoy’s unhappy family, terrible in different ways. Delta was lovely but eccentric. Her Zoom tutorials used no wizardry – just her in her cosy kitchen talking to us in ours. Pre-recorded lectures were posted with no audio along with illegible readings (scans of ancient photocopies). Despite this, her classes remained amiable.

Epsilon curiously chose an asynchronous discussion board for his online tutorial. We “turned up” at the scheduled time, but he didn’t. We were given a set topic and Epsilon would respond to a few of our individual posts on the following day (or never). With no class dynamic and no interaction, the subject withered on the vine.

Zeta prided himself on challenging students. On-line, without softening physical cues, he was acerbic. Passive resistance came quickly with some students refusing to turn their cameras on and speaking only if asked a direct question. Classes were dominated by uncomfortable silences and students were isolated from each other.

My former colleagues often argued that teaching on-line was soulless, a commodification of content and an eradication of human dynamics. I disagreed. I disagree more strongly now. For me, the on-line experience amplifies the face-to-face experience. Alpha, Beta and Gamma would have been as organised and “happy” in a real classroom. Delta would have been as shambolic but as lovable. Epsilon would have been as distracted. And Zeta would have been as caustic. Each was unhappy in his/her own way. Being online amplified their (and our) respective happiness and unhappiness.

Margaret Lloyd, ALTF, Adjunct Professor, Queensland University of Technology.

The Australian Learning & Teaching Fellows (ALTF) Legacy Report is here


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