By Meredith Stephens
Australia has gone into lock-down and the borders are closed. I must remain here and deliver my Japanese university classes online. Thankfully, there is only a thirty-minute time difference between Adelaide and Japan in the first semester. I spend a day worrying about technology, experiment with various platforms, and then settle on Zoom. A kind colleague in a professional teaching organization in Osaka, who I have never met in person, sends me his handouts and links to YouTube videos explaining how to use Zoom.
Finally, I am ready to deliver the dreaded online lesson. I switch on the screen and admit the students from the virtual waiting room. One student is giving me a wide smile in anticipation of her English class. The emotional contagion transfers across 8000 kilometres. I start to relax and enjoy the lesson. I have never been a fan of online learning because I believe that there is something special about face-to-face contact. However, now I am having second thoughts.
Next, I hear my daughters shouting at each other upstairs. Will the noise be picked up by my microphone? Then they come downstairs to make their breakfast, talking to each other in loud voices and clanging the pots and pans. I can hardly concentrate on my lesson. I have to shout at them, “Be quiet! I’m working,” in earshot of the students.
The next day I start my Zoom lesson as always, with my aging Labrador Tia snoring at my feet, her head on a zabuton cushion I had brought back from Japan. I must remember to tell my students that I am fully awake and that it is not me who is snoring. Tia is due to have an operation tomorrow to remove the aggressive cancer on her elbow, which is now becoming ulcerated. I have to stop her from aggravating the ulcer as she likes to lick it. I am halfway through the Zoom lesson, participating in pair discussions in the breakout room, when I notice fresh blood oozing from her tumour. I quickly call my daughter to attend to Tia, and the students are wondering what has gone wrong. I explain about Tia’s tumour, and turn the computer screen around so that they can see her. They politely commiserate. Then I bring the computer back to the desk and the images of my students’ faces are now upside-down on my laptop. I cannot access any of the buttons or mouse. I tell the students to keep chatting to each other while I turn off the computer. Meanwhile, I call my tech-savvy daughter to help me re-orient the screen. It takes about ten minutes and finally the screen reverts to the usual position and I can resume the lesson. The rest of the lesson proceeds uneventfully. That evening, when one of the students sends in her homework, she adds “I hope your dog is fine.”
On Friday morning my daughter takes Tia to the vet for day surgery while I conduct my Zoom lessons. When the lessons are over, we head back to the vet. Because of social distancing we have to stay in our cars, and ring the vet from there. I call the vet to announce our arrival, and a few minutes later Tia appears at the door, her two front legs neatly bandaged. The vet nurses urge her on as she staggers down the ramp, gingerly placing one foot after another. Then they urge her into our car and we lift her heavy frame on to the back seat.
Once we arrive home and lift her out of the car, she moves as quickly as her post-operative state will allow to the front door. Normally she sleeps on top of the bed covers with family members, but I don’t want her walking up the stairs, so we place a doggie cushion in front of the heater, and I drag a mattress downstairs so I can sleep next to the patient.
Monday morning comes around, and I must start my usual round of Zoom lessons. As usual Tia is at my feet, but this time she is awake, chewing at her bandage. As I am happily chatting to the students I notice her bandage is bloodied. I can’t afford to disrupt the flow of the lesson, so I keep talking as I carry the computer into the living room and motion for my daughter to come and rescue Tia. She shakes her head uncomprehendingly and so I mime the need for urgency and say Tia’s name aloud, and she returns with me to the back room and attends to Tia.
Now I have mastered the art of distance delivery I no longer have to have my daughter on stand-by to help me admit students from the virtual waiting room, use breakout rooms, or find the screen-share button. Since Tia has recovered from surgery I no longer have to worry about her welfare as I teach. I have settled into delivering Zoom lessons without assistance from the younger generation, and confidently deliver the lessons while Tia gently snores as she curls herself up on the zabuton cushion at my feet.