Virtual Learning, Virtual Working, Virtually Unavailable

By Heather Watts

Heather standing in front of a colourful background wearing a teal long sleeve shirt, smiling to the camera.

At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, I made the decision to send my son to school in-person. I can remember some of my parent friends asking, “Aren’t you worried about his health?”. Of course. I am also trusting in the processes set forward by his small, community school to keep everyone safe; a process informed by local physicians and scientists.

About three months went by before we needed to make a temporary switch to virtual learning. The amount of printer paper and ink we went through between December 2020-February 2021 was….let’s just say, a lot. Virtual learning started off really well. My son’s Zoom calls coincided with the times of my Zoom calls, and everything seemed in sync. I’d prepare meals and snacks in between calls, and we’d do the asynchronous work on my lunch break. Things seemed peachy! Then the fatigue began to set in; that same fatigue that I had felt months prior when I had been working from home for four months and pursuing my PhD full time. That same fatigue was now being felt in the body, heart and mind of my little six year old person.

In December, additional calls started to be scheduled at his school for special area classes such as French and Physical Education. The schedule had become less predictable, and I can vividly remember the guilt that swam through my body when I had realized he missed French one Tuesday morning. He was totally fine with it, but I felt like such a bad parent. I remember wondering how it could slip my mind, and mentally punishing myself for having too much on the go. Reflecting back on this now, that’s just the thing – I have too much on the go. 

I have felt that working from home has created the illusion that people are more available, and that we can schedule every bit of their time. We aren’t commuting to and from work, we aren’t switching offices or boardrooms to attend meetings, we aren’t walking from a lecture hall to a lab for our next class. We are sitting at our makeshift workspaces trying to exert the same energy, passion, and determination than we did before. While our time may appear more available (which isn’t always the case), our cognitive availability is another conversation. I am not cognitively available to take on anything more.

As it is, I feel that I am going an inch deep, but a mile wide with the projects and work I am involved in. The kid missed French class. For 30 minutes. That particular Tuesday. It is okay. I noticed my son beginning to become increasingly hesitant, and defiant in some cases when it would be time to log in for his Zoom lesson. He had mastered the art of turning his camera off as well as his mic (I have to admit, I do this a lot as well – insert wide-eyed emoji here, haha). He had become cognitively unavailable. Virtually unavailable. Spiritually unavailable – to take on anything more. I feel for him, and for the hundreds of thousands of other virtual learners trying to find some sense of normalcy. I feel for my graduate school colleagues as we work to foster discussion circles of critique and idea generation, all while not being able to feel one another’s energy in the room. I feel for our educators, K-12, and beyond, trying to create engaging learning settings, while navigating multiple technology platforms and learning a new pedagogy, the pedagogy of online learning.  

One quick story I will share with you all:

I was in a virtual (of course!) discussion space with some undergraduate students recently, and we were discussing effective methods being utilized by their professors to engage them as students. The conversation began with praise for the use of breakout rooms,, closed captioning features, making PowerPoints available ahead of time, as well as the use of different mediums to convey new information.

For me, the conversation went left when one of the students began to talk about seeing her professors’ kids in the background of the Zoom call. She commented “it’s like too much information. We don’t need to see that”. As a student parent, I sat there, in disappointment. While we must work to extend ourselves grace for being cognitively unavailable and having missteps in this virtual learning setting, we must also be cognizant of the fact that our professors, our supervisors, our leaders are also adjusting to this reality as well. Our professors are playing the role of teaching us, as well as their children. May we work to extend grace to them as well and work to see things through the eyes of another. 


Virtually Unavailable

0 comments on “Virtual Learning, Virtual Working, Virtually Unavailable

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *