Students and faculty struggle with return to in-person instruction

*This article is part of The Ranchor, The Anchor’s biannual satire edition*

As we continue in a pandemic that is still very much ongoing even if we are still returning to normal and referring to it in the past tense for some reason, some alarming behavioral changes have emerged in Hope College students and faculty. Campus Health’s strategy for keeping caseload low last year was to restrict almost all instruction to the realm of the internet, and students had to get used to attending classes from the dubious comfort of their homes. Though many have expressed relief that in-person classes are making a comeback this year, not everyone has it so easy. This week, the Anchor sat down with Hope theatre professor Dan Van Vandervan and chemistry students Emma Ulin (’23) and Hannah Malcolm (’24) to learn more about the unusual coping mechanisms emerging in some people who are reluctant to give up remote learning.

“It started in my first class of this semester,” Van Vandervan recounts. “I was giving an in-person lecture, and suddenly I was overwhelmed with a sense of loss. Would I ever again start talking only to have a student tell me thirty seconds later that I was muted and they couldn’t hear me? Would I ever try to type something in the chat but instead accidentally hit the hang-up button and lose like five minutes of class trying to find the link again? In-person just felt…shallow in comparison. I had to do something.” And do something he did. Van Vandervan is at the forefront of a small group of Hope instructors seeking to replicate the unique experience of online instruction in their present real-life environment.

The Internet Mimicry and Naturalization Union of Teachers (IMNUTS), as they call themselves, are professors who commit themselves to upholding the customs of online learning in their live teaching in the hope that their movement will reach mainstream praxis. Their methods have been described by several anonymous students on the RateMyProfessor website as “diverse” and “unusual” and “just plain disturbing, like what the ****.” Upon observing some of these mock-online classes, the resemblance is indeed uncanny: some IMNUTS professors have mastered the art of speaking in incomprehensible spurts to mimic a shaky Wi-Fi connection, and another popular practice is for everyone to abruptly leave the room in the middle of a discussion as if the server has gone down. One professor has constructed an elaborate and completely portable replica of her kitchen that she brings to different classes and uses as a backdrop. Props and acting aren’t everything, however—professional as ever, Hope’s faculty recognizes the important role that students play in establishing a classroom’s environment. “I encourage my students to constantly use their cell phones in class to achieve that awkward lack of engagement that’s so critical to a healthy online classroom,” says Alyssa Damon, associate professor of sociology. Other instructors mandate pajama-wearing under the “class participation” section of their official syllabus. The IMNUTS does wish to make it clear that they are not against vaccines, masking or social distancing because, apparently, that’s also something we have to clarify now, God help us all.

But it’s not just professors who miss the comforting confines of computers—Ulin also has a case to make for remote learning. “Last year I woke up five minutes before class started and went to class in my pajamas. This year I have to get up an hour earlier, and it’s destroying my sleep schedule. Also, I miss playing video games during class. I beat Dark Souls twice during health dy last semester. Totally failed that class, but it was a lot of fun.” When asked if the two-time completion of Dark Souls may have had an impact on her failing grade, Ulin declined to comment. Malcolm’s complaints are a horse of a different color: “Oh my gosh I hate going outside. Please someone invent a giant killer robot or something so I have an excuse to stay in my room and not talk to strangers every day without being guilt-tripped by fifty billion extroverts. I’m running out of anxiety pills.”

As exciting as it is for some that vaccines are beginning to roll out and scientists are learning more and more about how COVID-19 is transmitted, it would also behoove the Hope College community to consider the feelings of their friends and neighbors who may be less enthusiastic. If your friends, roommates, classmates or professors are showing signs of pandemic nostalgia and the accompanying behaviors described above, there is no need to react with fear or disgust, no matter how revolting and antisocial they may be. Instead, try taking the first step towards understanding and starting a conversation with them. You may be surprised by how much you learn.

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