by Sonja Dobroski and Laura Roe
Emplacement & Disarray (Laura Roe)

A feeling of dull surprise – this is what I say I felt, when I was told to vacate my home during the pandemic. Although it was only three days ago, I don’t precisely recall the moment: whatever my feelings were, anger and disbelief soon supplanted the rest, though these begin to hollow. Even as I write, surrounded by half-filled boxes and scattered belongings, in what I can no longer call home, I am filled only with resignation and a slight feeling of falling to pieces.

I must admit that teaching has not been at the forefront of my mind. I have largely ignored the many emails that sit within the category of “the move online.” I answer students’ queries where I can, and spent this afternoon mechanically setting up our online tutorial groups, for which I must soon prepare. I am thankful our Department approved a teaching format designed for online work, adapted to an age of social distancing and self-isolation. Our Head Tutor and my co-author, Sonja Dobroski, spent much of her own time in the previous fortnight devising the new system for first and second year modules, which asks students to engage with set questions, and one another, entirely through written responses. Not being live or on video, students can drop in and out of tutorials over the course of a week, posing their questions to myself and their peers. When I write back to them, I will not have to be composed, I must only appear so in text. What a remarkable difference this will make, for my disarray and improvisation are so often laid bare in tutorials, as a self-confessed “flapper.”

As Assistant Wardens in student halls of residence, Sonja and I were both informed that we must leave with hardly four days notice, in line with the rapid closure of halls of residence. I count myself fortunate – I had only been employed in the role since January and although I had formed an attachment to my new home from the beginning, this is nothing compared to the two years Sonja has lived in hers, or the many more years others have spent in the service. It is from my childhood bedroom in my mother’s house that I will be giving tutorials and delivering lectures, with little time to reckon with my displacement. I am again fortunate to have somewhere safe to live, not least in the company of two excellent cats and two somewhat mediocre rabbits. Sonja sends photos of her new desk in her partner’s flat; her own, small corner of home, bedecked with plants, books, and paper.I do also wonder how our students are faring with their new situations, whatever those might be. St Andrews witnessed a mass exodus when the current crisis began to escalate, many students returning to their homes. A few have reached out with concerns about the new course structure and the uncertainty that still surrounds some of their assessments. I imagine that some picture me poised at my computer, ready to answer them, instead of wandering around my house in varying states of dishevelment and melodramatic despondency. They will at least have an opportunity to voice their concerns and their questions in the first online tutorial, and though we are dispersed across the world, and in the new format, across time, I hope for a reciprocal engagement open to alternative modes of learning and relationality. I still question, however, what form such an engagement might take. Are we all of us situated in familiar, yet uncanny, environments and can we reconcile these spaces with the virtual ones we must interact with and in? What room exists for disorientation, hesitancy, and gradual adjustment? Is the proposed format compatible with, as Pink advocates (2009: 63), “ideas of learning as embodied, emplaced, sensorial and empathetic?”1 These ideas must surely be challenged in the current context; or perhaps they will simply shift and take on new form and meaning.Fors, Bäckström, and Pink (2013, 175), alternatively, argue that online spaces can be considered sites of sensorial knowledge exchange and production, at least and in part due to the likely necessity of touch in navigating these spaces. The touching of mouses, keyboards, and screens directs action, communication, and movement and so generates embodied and experiential interaction. Virtually situated pedagogical practices can also be considered emplaced, as they remain composed and constituent of “wider environments” (2013, 171). The possibilities for dialogic knowledge exchange, and situated learning, in an online context are therefore not extinguished. As much as I feel the loss of in-person discussion and physical presence, I remain hopeful that our exploration of these virtual spaces will lend itself to further epistemic potentialities – even as we face displacement and disarray.