The privileged classroom

Yesterday all the students at Ca’ Foscari university received an email from the Educational Programmes and Student Services Area Manager of the school. The key content of the email is the following:

2022/2023 classes at Ca’ Foscari university of Venice will be delivered exclusively in person.

Emergency teaching methods such as dual, synchronous or asynchronous lessons will not be provided.

I have been thinking about this email since I first read it. Despite being predictable behaviour from an institution who has never really wanted to act differently, there are other things to consider.

First, Ca’ Foscari is blatantly ignoring the new peaks of COVID-19 infections in order to be “consistent with the values that we have always recognised and upheld in recent years: the relationship between students and faculty . . .”. However, how much do they really value this “relationship”? The email states that the classroom capacity will be back to 100%, and yet without any rule in place to enforce the use of masks I am left to wonder why security and health are so easily overlooked. What’s even more fascinating is that the Italian healthcare institute released an official bulletin documenting the raising numbers of infections on June 241, right within the range of days when the Conference of Italian Universities Rectors (on June 22) and then the Regional Monitoring Committee (on June 27) agreed upon delivering classes exclusively in person.

Furthermore, it’s not clear what is going to happen to the technology and the services that have been built and maintained during the last two years. Most of the professors are openly against remote classes and lesson registrations, so they did it reluctantly and, more often than not, without bothering to learn how to use the tools at their disposal. Students did not help in this regard either. Among the ones online with me during the lessons, many participated with both camera and microphone turned off the entire time, thus forcing teachers to stare at walls of black squares on their Zoom window. The problem here, as I see it, is two-fold: on the one hand, if you are a teacher and your university forces you to use certain tools it also has to provide decent training. I cannot expect all the professors in humanities to be familiar with multiple screens or Zoom breakout rooms, for instance. However, Zoom is not Emacs. If you are still hitting the wrong button after, say, ten lessons, then the issue might be found somewhere between the chair and the keyboard. On the other hand, students not willing to be a part of the lesson from remote should just be kicked out of the session. I know this sounds brutal, but I took time off my daily job to do my best and be at every possible online lesson, asking questions, interacting with professors, and in general making the most of it. I seriously doubt that every student with a black square in their place was actually unable to do something about it.

Eventually Ca’ Foscari is about to forget the progress it has made in the last two years by enabling students such as myself to be seriously engaged with the faculty. It’s fairly obvious to me that when they talk about “the relationship between students and faculty” they have a precise idea of who these “students” should be. This unwillingness to compromise is making me question my willingness to compromise. I was willing to accept their Google-owned platforms and their Zoom because, despite the poor technological choice, work was being done to bring people in instead of keeping them out. Am I willing to continue with the compromise now?