Video conferencing from home, distractions and all

I’ve seen a lot of people worrying about teaching via video conference tools from home among the many distractions. It’s a real concern, especially if you have children who are home from school or other family members who will be in the household. In my case, my biggest problem can be the dog. Whenever I’m on zoom¬†and someone new joins, a doorbell sound goes off (yes, I could turn it off, but I like it on for office hours and then forget to turn it off at other times). The dog gets so excited because he thinks the UPS guy has arrived. He also barks when people walk down the street. It’s loud and super distracting.

photo of dog

Gratuitous photo of the high energy puppy who likes to bark at doorbells and people walking down the street.

 

I also have a tween. She knows that I shouldn’t be bothered when I’m teaching, but she might come stand behind my laptop with impatient eyes. Or make faces at me. And then there was the summer that every time I tried to do a video she walked behind me and made rabbit ears, kissed the top of my head, pretended to be a model walking down the runwalk, etc. You get the picture. I tried to find you the actual picture, because I know I grabbed a screen shot from one of the videos, but I can’t find it right now.

I won’t tell you that your anxieties about the distractions are unfounded, or that you’ll have ideal conditions, but I’m here to assure you that your less than ideal conditions are probably okay, and can probably work if you need them to. There will be exceptions, of course. I don’t know what to do if you have a three kids under 5 climbing all over you and no one else to help out.

What’s the anxiety all about, then? What immediately comes to mind is the BBC interview with a professor in South Korea during which his young child wanders in. It’s a dreaded moment — your 15 minute of fame come along and instead of being known for your intelligent commentary you go viral for your kid interrupting you.

However, for most of us a class session is not our 15 minutes of fame. It’s not a TED Talk. It’s a class lecture.¬†Classes are just a part of our jobs, and thus a part of our lives. So are families, pets, and so much more. If you teach (or learn) from home, the line is going to blur a little.

I chatted with a fellow academic mama about this topic over the weekend. We were laughing about how much we’ve dealt with over the years while working from home. Some of the more notable ones from my list:

  • Joined a dissertation defense via Skype while on maternity leave. Nursed an infant while on camera. Kept that camera pointed high. I’m not sure anyone ever noticed. If they did, they didn’t say anything.
  • I also remember nursing a crying babe while on the phone with a dean somewhere getting a job offer. She was crying. It was the only way I could think of quieting her so I could take the call.
  • I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to excuse myself for a sec to go let the dog out/in. It’s a great time to tell my students to take a few seconds to answer a question and/or give them time to come up with questions and type them in the chat.
  • I have a video — that I used, because I was too tired to re-record — with a little girl belly laugh in the background. It’s a cute laugh. Apparently something funny happened on TV in the next room. I just paused for a second, said “And that’s what I get for recording this from home,” and moved on.

I’ve also just given in at times, told folks I was at home with a kid, let her have her moment on camera, and then (satisfied with a little attention) she moved on to her own amusements. And admittedly, I’m also not above bribery (extra screen time if you use headphones!). I’ve hid out in a bathroom to narrate slides, too. Do what you can. Remember that I’m confessing just how “unprofessional” some of my video appearances have been for years, under regular circumstances. These are not regular circumstances. You’re supposed to be social distancing and/or at home. If you have the big distractions, like being sole caregiver for a number of small children, maybe live video is something to avoid (and you can try to record videos late at night, if video is necessary). For the rest of us, I think we should just accept the conditions and allow worlds to merge a little. If a cat winds its way in front of you while you teach, it’s okay. If a dog barks, no big deal. If a toddler shows up and wants to be on camera for a few moments, why not?

I’d like to think there’s an upside of all of this. At the end, we’ll all seem a little more human to our students, and it’s through seeing everyone’s human side that we find ourselves in a better position to band together and support each other though the crisis.

You’ve got this!

PS: Did a zoom with faculty at another university earlier today. I had headphones on, mic off when I wasn’t speaking. There was a wall behind me. My 11 year old was mostly in the next room, quietly watching TV. The dog miraculously only barked once, and I was already muted. My husband walked in and out a few times, but never spoke. At the end, we all joked about working from home. They said they saw the shadows of my family on the wall as they walked past my workstation. I had no idea!