A theme that is beginning to emerge in my contemplation of the material we are reading in NetNarr is Body. I realize the notion of Body is not a new one and there are many, many people before me that have fleshed this out. This framework of the Body started to come to me partly because I am reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolkfor my class on trauma and also after reading the article “Bodies of Work: A Proposal for Critical Labour Literacy in the Post-Pandemic University”. These works look at the issue of not seeing particular populations through a Body centered lens (trauma and educators, respectively) and how this needs to change if we are going to be able to help heal people and have them live fulfilling lives.
A conversation about the Body is something that I think is vital to the aim of NetNarr in considering the post-pandemic university. The theme for this week in NetNarr is “Digital Citizenship and Wellness” and the article that has been selected touches on issues of equity within online learning spaces, how we connect with others, and practices of intentionality that hold structures accountable to the work they claim to be doing. These themes and topics scream Body to me. When we consider the fact that not only are we physical bodies interacting with other physical bodies, but we are also part of Body in a big picture sense – schools, society, cultures, governments, online spaces, etc. – there is no way to consider issues within learning and connecting without a conversation on Body. In many ways, being in a time where our interactions with people are largely in an online format turns us all into two dimensional beings that are more voice and picture on a screen than flesh and blood humans.
Turning people into less than whole humans isn’t just an online problem or a problem of the pandemic. As I opened with, Body isn’t a new theory and neither is the way dehumanizing is manifesting in this pandemic – it is an ancient problem draped in new clothes. Obviously, I can’t go into all that this problem of dehumanizing touches on, but what I do want to highlight in this post is the way we treat bodies in online learning, how we can create practices of equity to contribute towards the fight to see people in a light that humanizes them, and the importance of quality connection.
The reading from last week was a perfect way to build the foundation of a conversation on Body as we discussed the “caring gap” from Saldanha’s article “The Post-Pandemic University and the Caring Gap.” She mentions many issues within academia that dehumanize those working within it, but the one that segways nicely into this week is the need to make spaces like academic conferences accessible to those who are “time-poor” and “carers”.
“Intentionally Equitable Hospitality in Hybrid Video Dialogue: The context of virtually connecting” presents a solution to this accessibility issue in the form of VConnecting and Intentionally Equitable Hospitality (IEHospitality). Due to the expense and time commitment many conferences demand, it is difficult for those who are “time-poor”, disabled, low on funds, minority, or who simply don’t have the ‘right connections’ to get into academic conferences. The inability to access these environments causes a problem of inequity. The authors offer VConnecting as a way to meet this need, with the added benefit of using Intentionally Equitable Hospitality to make sure that the platform is actually doing what it claims to do. By creating an online space that connects in-person conference goers with online participants, they are breaking down barriers that contribute to these spaces being traditionally inequitable. On top of that, they are applying a practice of IEHospitality to ensure that these online spaces actually are aiding in creating an equitable experience. Their theory is, you can’t just say “All are welcome” and assume everyone will now magically feel that way. You have to put practices and policies in place that are intentional in welcoming and try to meet the needs of individuals where they are at, instead of a one size fits all approach. This is the essence of equity. When we aren’t intentional, things will just take on the shape of what they were trying to fix – namely, one more inequitable space that doesn’t serve those it sets out to help.
There were a few concepts that leapt out to me in this discussion of VConnecting and IEHospitality that I want to focus in on to discuss online learning, equity, Body and connecting:
- “…[onsite participants] see each other with equal space, make eye contact while speaking to each other, but they see all of the virtual people together as “one” person on a screen.”
- “In practice, VConnecting cannot and does not challenge academic gatekeeping in every instance, but strives to create an intentionally equitable environment of hybrid dialogue in which this can thrive.”
The first quote was significant to me because it was key in connecting the dots from theory to a practical application of considering Body in a virtual space. As the authors mention at the end of their essay, the participants who don’t need VConnecting are faced with these online tools and begin to understand there is a problem of inequity going on. But I think what happens so often – and this might be a little controversial to say, but I’m open to learning and being corrected – is that people need to be taught how to treat each other. We have this human nature that wants to avoid what is strange and awkward – what is ‘other’ in our perception. Without the presence of the buddies practicing IEHospitality that VConnecting used to bridge the gap between the online participants and the in-person ones, this system would completely fail. The in-person participants needed to be taught how to see and treat the virtual ones as real people with real needs and who had important things to contribute. I have so many thoughts around this intentional practice of teaching others how to behave towards each other – it is partially a problem of what we consider intuitive – but I don’t have the time to address it here.
Moving on, the second quote is so important because it adds a needed caveat – though VConnecting and IEHospitality try as hard as possible to meet all the needs of everyone, they will fall short. This isn’t to excuse not finding ways to try to do everything possible to make equitable and accessible spaces, it is to call attention to a real dynamic that the authors call “contextual”. You aren’t suddenly equitable and that is the end – it is an ongoing process to achieve equity and that is why intentionality is so significant. Achieving equity isn’t a static state suddenly achieved by our efforts – it is a constant process of acting in a way that aligns with the values of equity and empathy. And if we don’t see issues of equity and accessibility in this intentional and contextual way, we will not be able to achieve any kind of real change.
I know this is turning into a long post, so I ask forgiveness for the long windedness – but just a final point to bring things to a head in the idea of connection. We see that online learning in any context is going to need some intentional work to make it humanizing. We also see that practices that promote equity are going to have to be serious about looking at the ways inequity continues to try to sneak in. Now I want to discuss how connecting is the goal of all this work and how important it truly is to humanizing people.
To address connection, I want to bring in Bessel Van Der Kolk’s work in The Body Keeps the Score. His work centers around how trauma isn’t merely an issue of the abstract mind, but is a Body issue. Trauma alters the way the brain processes everything from what is safe to the altering of hormones that are continuously dumped into our system and make us sick. One of the most important parts of helping to heal this is connection – with ourselves as a mind and Body and with those around us. That is why I believe Trauma Informed Practice in education is so important because, like IEHospitality and VConnecting, it is seeking to create an environment where those who are traditionally overlooked can actual feel safe and connected. When you are being intentional about making a classroom follow the principles of Trauma Informed Practice – Safety, Trust, Support, Collaboration, Voice, and Context – you begin to create a space that sees individual bodies for the physical and emotional beings that we all are, and to make space to address problems when those bodies aren’t being able to function as well. But this all has to begin with practices of intentional connection that create spaces of safety.
There is so much more to say, but I will leave it at that for now. The dynamic of Body, connection, equity, and learning is something I am going to continue to explore and try to bring into my interactions with our NetNarr readings. I know I have so much to learn about the theories behind what I am talking about with Body and that there is a ton of work and thinking to credit for these ideas I am pondering. What is exciting to me is beginning to awaken to it all and start exploring.
Bali, Maha, et al., “Ethos and Practice of a Connected Learning Movement: Interpreting Virtually Connecting Through Alignment with Theory and Survey Results.” Online Learning, vol. 20, no. 4, 2016, pp.212-229.
Center for Preparedness and Response. “Infographic: 6 Guiding Principles To A Trauma-Informed Approach.” CDC, 17 September 2020, Infographic: 6 Guiding Principles To A Trauma-Informed Approach | CDC, Accessed 2 February 2021.
Kate Bowles, Mia Zamora, Autumm Caines, & Maha Bali, “Bodies of Work: A Proposal for Critical Labour Literacy in the Post-Pandemic University” The Post Pandemic University, 16 September 2020, Bodies of work: a proposal for critical labour literacy in the post-pandemic university – The post-pandemic university, Accessed 10 February 2021.
Longley, Robert. “Equity vs. Equality: What Is the Difference?” ThoughtCo., 21 August 2020, Equity vs. Equality: What Is the Difference? (thoughtco.com), Accessed 10 February 2021.
Saldanha, Gabriela. “The Post-Pandemic University and the Caring Gap.” The Post Pandemic University, 22 November 2020, The post-pandemic university and the caring gap – The post-pandemic university, Accessed 10 February 2021.
Van Der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score, Penguin, 2014.