by Scott Ross
My screen was split into twelve little squares. Eight or nine little faces stared at me as some of my students tuned in from kitchens, bedrooms, and dining rooms across the country and around the world. I threw up a virtual background from RuPaul’s Drag Race to lighten the mood in our first optional real-time class discussion. We talked a bit about the readings—an ad hoc collection of articles about the 2014 Ebola pandemic in West Africa, selected in an effort to ‘teach the crisis’ in a class about Africanist anthropology—but we also talked about how bizarre, scary, stressful, and strange our present predicament was. Fearful of becoming nodes of contagion and in compliance with public health experts’ warning against gathering in large numbers, my and many university campuses closed in March. But rather than end the semester early or postpone courses, the directive was to shift courses online, implicitly or explicitly calling to ‘maintain’ the ‘rigor’ of in-person instruction. But this is a fallacy.

What I was doing in the classroom was not contingent solely on my students and I being in the same room. The infrastructure of the university and the city, the structures of the family and the economy, the presence of friends and internships and sports and parties, all of these existed in a particular constellation that allowed our class to happen, and none of them are present in the same way now. We cannot maintain things as if things were normal, and so I made concessions against class-as-usual and towards a more empathetic, open form of learning, with all of my students in mind. Here I offer a few reflections from that transition on surveillance, synchronicity, and support in the context of that revitalized education buzzword, ‘instructional continuity.’