Rachel writes: The coziness of the long-distance learner

I’ve been enjoying my two distance courses this semester (“History of Art and Architecture E-178: Designing the American City” and “Studio Arts and Film E-176: Nazi Cinema“).

People ask how I like watching lectures online rather than in person. Both courses are large lecture courses, and if I were participating “live,” I feel the experience would be roughly the same, with me as one of a mass of participants. These courses are not cozy seminars.

However, though I miss the camaraderie and the spontaneous dashing out for a tipple & a debrief in Harvard Square with classmates after a class meeting, my driving motivation is independent research, so the form suits me fine. There is much chance for personal interaction and connection within the online discussion forums as well, for each course.

On another note, in an anthropological vein, one is afforded the opportunity to closely observe professorial tics and mannerisms in a way in which one could not do otherwise: video lectures, which can be watched multiple times, focus mainly on the professor and only cut away to focus briefly on slides or film clips. I have made a study of speech patterns, repeated pet phrases, and body language. Don’t misunderstand–these two charming and erudite instructors deliver their material with intellectual depth, humor, and a wonderful sense of connection with students. But in observing physical gestures and the like, I have come to appreciate the meaning of, for example, the pinky finger held suddenly to the lips, in a gesture of measured thoughtfulness, and the many repetitions of “a sort of . . .” as a modifier, indicating that no idea is cast in stone and that we arrive at conclusions via a very liberal intellectual process that permits ideas to take shape as we think about them.

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