Recently, I once again attended a physical convention - where the topic paradoxically was open and online education. In Nantes. How great to finally meet each other live again. Or well, again: most of the people I met there I only knew from Zoom or had heard about.
And as it turned out: they were just as fun and passionate in real life as they were online! We had never shook hands or truly looked each other in the eyes, nor gone to lunch or eaten dinner together, let alone danced. We did have drinks, but then again, virtually, everyone behind their own laptop with a glass of wine; that remains a bit shabby.
Whether we achieved more substantively than we would have at an online convection is up for debate. Because you don’t have to meet up physically to have substantive exchanges per se. As ENOEL (European Network of Open Education Librarians), we met up twice per month for an online meeting during the past two years. For variety, we organised online hackathons and recorded interviews with lecturers on open education via Zoom. We even created a toolkit. Two years ago, we would not have thought that possible.
With the same group, we also gave presentations at online conventions and received great reactions. But attending the rest of the convention? No, not really. That really is too boring and exhausting from behind the laptop. Personally, I can’t keep that up for days on end, and I have immense respect for the ones that are able to. And on top of that, there was enough other work to do.
I need the isolation, drinks together, and group lunches! I thrive on those informal exchanges! That doesn’t need to happen every single month, but meeting each other as a group of like-minded people in an isolated location every now and then, that keeps you going. Just like how, during my classical languages studies, I sometimes joined a study trip to Greece or Italy. That kept me motivated; afterwards I could go back to months of translating texts and devouring slideshows made by archeology lecturers. It enlightened me, I was there, I was part of it!
And if the lectures had been online, would I have been just as motivated? Obviously, that can’t be measured; it was a different time. I did not have a side job, because we were not allowed to work alongside our studies, the housing shortage was not that bad, so we all lived in the city where we studied, student debts were not rising so quickly yet, and the computers were not that powerful. I just went to my lectures, because that was all there was. Whether they were always captivating? Not really. Some lectures I would have liked to have fast-forwarded, and others could have used subtitles. I frequently looked at my watch to see how much time was left. But there was nothing else, this was what was offered. And more often than not it was captivating. Every now and then we had a guest speaker. That put a spring in our step. A new voice, a new perspective! That was so refreshing! At a certain moment - I had just started my masters - our generation of students received a public transport card. I could enrol in courses elsewhere and even write my master’s thesis with a lecturer from another city. Not that the lecturer was better per se, but she was an expert on my topic. I felt liberated!
Around the same time, we were allowed to earn some extra money alongside our studies. Entrepreneurial students immediately seized the opportunity to become couriers: charging money to take parcels from A to B while the government paid for the travel expenses.
I wonder how we would have reacted if we had been able to attend online lectures (in the form of educational videos, e-learning modules, or podcasts, for example) during that time. Would we have done so en masse? To be honest, I think the answer is yes. At home, or on the train (as a courier). Whether we would have known each other and the lecturers less well? I don’t think so. We would have met each other while having drinks or during a night of dancing. And of course during a spectacular lecture or challenging seminar. And then alternating with a study trip, hackathon, evening of discussion, or game here and there.
Because nothing is as demotivating as a lack of variety or options.