The Intimate and the Remote

The Intimate and the Remote: How the Singularity is Fusing These TwoApproaches to Education – J.C. Steele

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.

Sydney J. Harris

The recent thinking that we have entered into a new “Viral Age” is a bit of a misnomer. We have always been in a viral age. The difference today is that the viruses travel all over the globe and there has never been a time in history where “vaccines” would not need widespread distribution, speedy delivery and constant updating to keep pace with the morphing tendencies of the viruses. These needs must not be allowed to distract us from a critical fact. The youngest among us will be the most affected and for the longest period of time. How we model crisis behavior for our children, and how we educate them and treat them in this emergency, will establish the world’s course for the next few generations. One needs only to look at the children of the Great Depression to see the reality we’re creating.

The direct impact of the pandemic on education has highlighted new, yet old, ways COVID-19isreshaping how education will be delivered under pandemic restrictions. There is nothing new about shutting down public places, quarantines, or sequestering because of a plague. But with a global economy tied so closely together, it magnifies the impact of loss on current business and future education and development. We find ourselves at an inflection point: education practices will change, whether we wish it or not.

Students will be dependent more than ever upon online databases, videos, and instructional tools. It is crucial to develop even remote areas with high level internet service. With the future that is coming, we’ll need everyone to cope with synchronous and asynchronous learning without the added advantages of in-person delivery. It will also put to shame the “pay-to-play” plan of internet providers who slow access for those unable to pay for more than basic service.

Instructors need to make large shifts in their familiar pedagogy in order to effectively deliver course content. With compulsory education currently required for primary and secondary schools, this means creating a hybrid of “in person” and online teaching. Like it or not, the old way of structuring a class period is changing for good. In order to prepare students for success, teachers must train them not only with information about different subjects, but in how to access and utilize metadata to find the information they need. Changes in the way people interface with information will drive fundamental changes in our perception of the reality around us.

Augmented reality (AR) will be a driving force in the exchange of data and information. Local governments which mandate compulsory education will be forced to provide adequate resources or see local populations “voting with their feet” by going where the quality of information exchange is higher, and the information density greater.

In higher education, the problem is even more pronounced. Not only does the college student population already vote-with-their-feet but there is an enormous cost associated with attending higher education institutions. The question becomes, more significantly than in the past, why should I spend so much money to receive instruction that I can find at low or no cost online? When universities and colleges figure this out, there will be a noticeable change in campus life. There has to be a change in order to counteract the emerging notion that universities and colleges are not much more than endowments and trust funds that use “Education” as a tax dodge.

“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.”

Frank Zappa

What we will see in the marriage of the “intimate” and the “remote” is a new formula for education at all levels. Getting this synthesis right will determine the relative success of every culture that hopes to have successive generations improve up on the status quo, rather than enter into a regressive period where the children are not smarter than their parents. We need learning that embraces the advantages of the online “Academe,” as well as the face-to-face learning and tutoring of Plato and Aristotle. We cannot afford either/or. What recent events have taught us is that no country can really afford an “on-again-off-again” system of content delivery in the classroom. When there are future pandemics and shutdowns our education systems need to be able to pivot quickly from the intimate to the remote, with minimal loss of momentum and content.

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. Without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.”

Albert Einstein

We should also remember that as we scramble to make our teaching successful, we must consider the experience from the end user’s perspective—the students. It has already been demonstrated that students on remote access easily become bored, distracted and occasionally mischievous in their attendance to lessons. Reports of students on ZOOM running videos of themselves paying attention to the screen while they are off in the kitchen or elsewhere have already surfaced, along with the tried-and-true technique of posting an engaging profile picture while the camera and sound are off.

How do teachers and presenters hope to overcome this casual attitude towards class or seminars? By constantly making them fun and interactive, of course. It may not be how many teachers prefer to emphasize the solemnity of their topics, but at risk of total failure to connect, we should all be aware that a sense of fun should be a primary element of instruction. We’re all up against the frustrations and aggravations of a home life that constantly wants to interweave with our work life. We must finally come to grips with the conundrum of “working” from home, when we want to “play” at home. We need to find how to bring these concepts together, so that work and fun are synonymous. At least if the presenters make it fun, there’s a greater chance that we will all get something out of the experience and improve the quality of our lives.

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”


J.C. Steele is Professor of Theatre and Multidisciplinary Studies at Principia College outside of St. Louis. By circumstance, not necessarily by choice, he has become a ZOOM Meeting expert.