Absence-presence in Online Education

Laptop

There are already 10 tiny Zoom squares. 9 of them are black, no one is showing their face. Except for the tutor. I have a strange feeling of body and space. It doesn’t feel like I’m really there in this conversation and therefore don’t feel a need to participate. I’m sitting in my childhood room, see all the colorful pictures of friends and family on the wall, hearing my neighbor talking loudly and energetically through the window. I am wearing my pink and fluffy home slippers. They snuggle up to my feet. I’m home, I feel warm, comfortable, and secure. Strangely, at the same time, I’m somewhere else. Somehow like an imagined classroom, but at the same time also not.  In this online space without physical grounding, impossible to see, feel, or even grasp. I can only see 25 different faces, aligned next to and below each other. I’m aware that my unnatural big and light face appears on all these different devices, locations, and countries – and this makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m feeling comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. Where are we? Am I in my room and they are too? Or am I in their rooms? Someone joins the call and hasn’t muted their microphone. I hear a foreign language and can’t identify which language it is. The hollow sounds only strengthen my feeling of distance, drawing me mentally into the distance. Suddenly the noises turn into sincere sounds. And with those sincere and warm sounds, I am feeling comfortable again – even though I still cannot understand a single word.

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