“Intentionally Equitable Hospitality in Hybrid Video Dialogue: The context of virtually connecting” by Maha Bali, et al. describes how the VConnecting (Virtually Connecting) community facilitates “hybrid conversations” by livestreaming academic conferences for virtual participants who are unable to attend in person. By practicing “intentionally equitable hospitality,” the VConnecting community encourages historically marginalized and disenfranchised groups to contribute to academic conversations alongside “established scholars.”
I appreciate that Bali, et al. recognize that hospitality must be intentional. It’s easy to say that all are welcome to join a conversation, but those whose voices have been historically silenced may have a hard time accepting that they’re included in that invitation. As a graduate student, I tend to assume I’m not experienced, educated, or knowledgeable enough to offer valuable contributions to a rigorous academic discussion, so an explicit invitation would go a long way to make me feel welcome at a conference.
I also appreciate how realistic this article is; the authors clearly explain the challenges that arise when conducting a hybrid conversation, and they admit that attending conferences virtually may not be the best solution for everyone (e.g., those who don’t speak English, those without the necessary tech, etc.). Members of the VConnecting community are trying to be equitable and open new doors, but they don’t falsely believe they’ve somehow solved all inequality in academia and opened those doors for every single disenfranchised person. By being clear about the practicalities and obstacles that arise when implementing hybrid conversations, Bali et al. offer an optimistic—but not unrealistic—view of a future academia that’s more equitable, hospitable, and welcoming towards diverse voices.
In my previous posts, I’ve been cautiously optimistic for ways a post pandemic university could use what we’re learning now about online instruction to improve the overall educational experience. However, I’m also a realist, and I know that educational institutions don’t always do what’s best for teachers and students. That’s why one of my fears for a post pandemic university is that hybrid instruction will become the new normal.
Admittedly, after you’ve just read my praise for the VConnecting experience, you may be wondering why hybrid instruction would be so bad. Surely, allowing students to join a live lecture via video conference would make the classroom more equitable for all the reasons listed by Bali, et al. The problem, as their article makes clear, is that creating an effective hybrid conversation takes a lot of time and effort. VConnecting volunteers must plan for and deal with logistical and technical issues, and “buddies”—both virtual and in person—must work hard to ensure the conversation runs smoothly.
Educators teaching hybrid classes don’t have a “buddy” to ensure the lesson runs smoothly. They’re asked to act as presenter, facilitator, and technical coordinator for every single lesson they teach. Under these conditions, instructors will struggle to meet the additional demands that hybrid instruction creates, and students will suffer because their teacher’s attention is split in so many directions. Asking teachers to take on these additional responsibilities without giving them additional planning time or compensation creates a less equitable and hospitable classroom environment for everyone.
On a lighter note, I enjoyed participating in the Daily Creates on Twitter. The first prompt I completed was taking a photo of emptiness.
I could pretend that this picture has a deep meaning about the post pandemic university: I could say the empty Inca Kola bottle from Peru represents the impossibility of studying abroad in our current situation and brings up questions about what travel might look like post pandemic, and I could say my cat represents how people’s pets—who are always popping into Zoom meetings—have become honorary classmates and have helped bring brightness to a very dark time. But the truth is that I just thought this picture was pretty cute, so I wanted to share it with everyone.
The second prompt was to make a safety sign.
This one relates a little more obviously to the post pandemic (and mid-pandemic) university. Honestly, I hope wearing masks becomes more commonplace even post pandemic. Schools are cesspools for germs, so I’d like to see people continue to be courteous and wear masks when they’re feeling sick, even from something as harmless as a cold. Wearing your mask correctly is an easy way to show you care about a stranger’s wellbeing, and I’d like to see that kind of care and empathy become prevalent in the post pandemic university.