I spent the whole summer freaking out about the first online class for my masters in social work, as some of you know. I’m a very anxious student. I always worry that I won’t finish my work in time, and rush and rush, until I’ve finished everything by Tuesday, when it’s not due until Sunday. There is a lot of work for my online Human Rights and Social Justice Class: first of all, because it’s a graduate class, and second because it’s all in eight weeks, so each week is like two weeks of a regular semester. I take notes on everything: the chapters from the terrible textbooks, the scholarly articles, the radio programs, and the video lectures. Even when the information is duplicated and quadruplicated, I take notes each time, just in case I missed something.
I hope this will calm down soon and I will start to trust myself a bit with this new school format. I’m kind of enjoying arguing with all of these authors as I read their work – and one of our weekly assignments for class is a reflection journal to “process” what we’ve learned, so I can rant and go off on tangents and have my say and, eventually, the teacher has to read it.
Human Rights and Social Justice as a title for a class sounds daunting. It suggests a seriousness and a comprehensive-thousand-page-thesis vision of learning, but the reality of the class has been more down to earth. The Professor focuses on manageable doses of vocabulary and ideas, rather than expecting the TRUTH to come down from heaven and infuse us with a burning light.
There is an acceptance that these terms are so big as to be almost meaningless, or to carry many meanings within them. We each use these terms, and every term we learn in the jargon of social work, to mean specific things that they may not mean to other people: words like distributive justice, and equal rights, and positionality, and intersectionality, and internalized oppression, and on and on.
Cricket has already let me now her feelings about my watching the video lectures on the computer. She’s used to me reading quietly, or looking at blogs and pictures on line, but for the computer to talk, and for so long, makes her very angry. She had a big bad case of Barking Tourette’s during the longer of the two lectures, and I almost lost my mind.
We have twenty one or twenty two students in our class and I read everything they write, because a lot of my classmates are already working at social service agencies and have valuable experiences to share, and because it’s nice to know someone’s out there reading and thinking about the same things I am. The online format is surprisingly intimate, and thorough, compared to in-person classes, because everyone gets a chance to have their say, and to respond to each comment that interests them. We don’t have to compete for attention, or fit our comments into a limited time period. We have all week to think and write and read at our own pace – and the professor can hear and respond to everyone, with no need to pick only one or two voices to speak for all of us.
Most of the work for the class is reading and then writing responses, but some percentage of the final grade will come from the final exam – a forty question multiple choice test that I will take on my home computer. Their answer to how to make sure we are not cheating is a service called ProctorU, where you sign in and someone sits there and watches you on your web cam, and talks to you, and checks out your environment, and makes sure you have no unacceptable resources. It looks really creepy. I am much more anxious about the process of being proctored online than I am about the final exam itself.
With my luck, Cricket will take an instant dislike to the proctor talking at us from my computer screen, and will spend the whole test barking, until my head splits open and all of that studiously gathered information spills out all over the floor.