Diving Into the Wreck: Revisiting Online Classrooms After the Semester Ends

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By Rich Russell

It is that time, just before the new semester begins, when the online professor must again go diving into the wreck.

Well— but it was not a wreck, exactly; wreck has such a negative connotation. Something beautiful there-existed (still exists) that, after grades were entered, was allowed to drown — to quietly expire: the students denied access to the online course as the clock struck midnight at the end of the Fall term.

When a traditional class is over, it is over (done): the students hand in their final exam or final papers, exit stage-right, and that is all she wrote, so to speak. Sometimes there are frantic queries sent — desperate pleas (“oh, please, professor…!”) for a clemency of additional points added. But mostly, as I admit to them on the final class when I thank them for their enthusiasm and commitment, “Some of us may never see one another again: and that is the reality of life.” (I know, a bit existential; how fitting that our last unit in Introduction to Literature this term was titled “The Presence of Death.”) There is always that moment on the final class when one wonders (or at least I do), after a student has turned in the final, will she say anything? — will he just leave, not look back, in a “now on to the next thing” sort of way? Most of my students like to hang around after the last class, not wishing for it all to end so soon, like drowsy revelers lingering after a splendid party. Still, I’m most fascinated by the steely resolve of those who just go and who do not look back for fear of turning into sodium chloride (so bad for the cholesterol, after all).

Online, though, there isn’t really a last class. At about this time, a week before the new semester starts, I find myself returning to those cities that were constructed over the fifteen weeks: the classrooms that have been neglected over winter break, buried in the ash. This is a return to the world of ghosts: all of those past discussions and assignments, all perfectly preserved, as if the students were still talking to one another and to me. Here one finds the truthy urn of Keats: every “LOL” and each passing disagreement frozen in a noisy yet silent form. I must admit, I find it a bit unsettling to have to revisit this place, now that the authors have all abandoned the ship, leaving me to clean up, to salvage all that worked and leave behind anything that did not.

The professor alone must return to the wreck, to turn back on the lights and have a look around before hitting the reset button.

About the Teacher in Pajamas: Rich Russell received a B.A. in English from New York University, an M.S. in Teaching from The New School, and an M.A. in English from University College London. He currently teaches composition, literature, and creative writing classes (both online and in person) at Atlantic Cape Community College and The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. He received the Adjunct Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence from Atlantic Cape in 2010.

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