It has been approximately eight weeks since we were placed on stay at home status, requiring teachers, students, faculty, and practitioners of all kinds to pivot to provide instruction and services remotely. During this time, we have all learned more than we ever wanted to know about things like wifi strength, bandwith, headphones, zoom, google, and various other platforms that have sprung up to meet the needs of families and schools. At the same time, we have simultaneously marveled about how quickly we all made the change to virtual life while lamenting the fact that we have lost, at least temporarily, the option of actual in-person instruction and have had to tolerate weak wifi reception, dropped calls and sessions, interlopers hacking into meetings, and, a general sense of remote instruction fatigue (RIF).
RIF may be characterized by a preoccupation with: a feeling of anxiousness prior to a virtual instruction session; a concern about how many students are attending each meeting and/or completing assignments; following up with those students not in attendance or exhibiting poor task completion; a reluctance to press parents who themselves may be struggling on many fronts to enlist their aid with their student; parents and students expecting you to be available 24/7; and preparing an endless stream of assignments to accompany virtual instruction sessions.
While teaching is a vocation that normally requires boundless energy and time to perform the myriad tasks involved in delivering instruction on a daily basis, remote instruction adds a qualitatively different strain to educators, and by the end of the day, a different type of exhaustion has set in. Dealing with students who normally present with a lack of enthusiasm for school in the current virtual environment makes the task of keeping them centered and on point even more challenging.
Now, there are some “perks” to this virtual world. There are no long commutes to work, no lunches to make, and no dress codes to which to adhere. Having the time to explore the online world is another such “perk” as we have no other choice if we want to remain viable. Moreover, thinking out of the box, an important skill at any time, is more in demand these days as we must constantly create and re-create ourselves and how we work.
How about the inherent paradoxes of virtual instruction? While teachers and parents normally struggle with keeping students’ attention and off of the web, we now are faced with using the web as a lifeline. The competition with all of the myriad web-based distractions still exists and we must find ways to work around them. For example, joining with kids by having them teach us aspects of the web, how certain video games work, and, implicitly, signaling our interest in the virtual world can being us all closer and diminish conflicts about being online.
Yet, we are by now yearning for the in-person contact we all took for granted. Getting offline and doing something else is essential to prevent an increase in RIF. Little things like doing puzzles, playing board games, reading a book, exercising and many more activities take on new meaning.
Like anything else, new situations bring with them a period of adaptation. RIF may be a reaction to the sudden and intense changes in education and healthcare. The pendulum, however, will eventually swing back to the middle and online activity will take a new place in our daily lives-but, once this crisis ends, it will be counterbalanced by in-person life. Hang in-we are slowly getting there! Watch for signs of RIF and do something to deflect it.