Daily Connector | Communication | Kerry Strayer

I am not a fan of online education and haven’t been for a long time, long before it became how we had to deliver classes during this pandemic.

Years ago, I was disparaging a school that provided primarily online classes.  A friend laughed and said, “You’re just worried you’ll lose your job.”  (I’m a Communication professor at Otterbein University.)  I shook my head and replied, “Nope.  People will take courses online and not learn how to communicate.  And then they’ll have to hire me as a consultant, and I’m much more expensive that way.”

I teach communication.  Not journalistic communication that comes to you online, or through the airwaves, or in written form in a paper or magazine.  I teach the face-to-face kind: Public Speaking, Interpersonal Communication, Teamwork, and Leadership courses.  A famously repeated statistic in communication is that over 60% of the meaning that we get in communication comes from the nonverbal stuff: posture, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and more.  Whether the statistic is accurate, nonverbal communication is critical.  When we first started sending email messages, it was impossible to read tone or emotion, so we invented emojis or added an “lol” to indicate our amusement.  Teaching online, I miss the feedback from my students, the interested or confused looks on their faces or hands up to ask questions.  I miss watching them interact with each other in discussion.  I miss chatting with them before and after class, something which comes more naturally (for me, at least) when you are in their presence, getting to know them and their life stories.

I admit, it’s partly who I am.  Back in April, Shirley noted that she was an INFP on the Myers-Briggs and a 4 on the Enneagram.  I am an ENFP and that E stand for MAJOR EXTROVERT.  My first Strength on the Strengths Finder test is WOO which stands for Winning Others Over.  I love meeting new people—never met a stranger—and finding out about them.  On the Enneagram I’m a 2, a helper; it’s tougher, though not impossible, to help others when they’re not there physically.

Finishing classes in the spring was okay, I had already gotten to know the students and thus could interact with them online with some personal awareness of who they were.  But teaching a course online this summer—Interpersonal Communication of all things—with students I didn’t know before, is more difficult.

So while I still deeply love teaching, I am not enjoying this experience especially, and I’m praying that somehow we are back in person in the fall.

But perhaps this is a test for me, an evolution in my thinking about what is necessary to connect with others.  A challenge to adapt MY communication to be clear and inviting, and to create an environment with my online classroom that allows students to feel comfortable, engaged, and willing to contribute.

By the way, one of my favorite teaching tools are the personality tests: Myers-Briggs (MBTI), Enneagram, Strength Finder, and others.  So if there’s a group of you who would like to consider how these tools might give you insight into why you are loving or hating social isolation, getting tasks done or feeling unfocused, or followed the detailed numbers versus looking at the overall picture of the pandemic, I’m here to interact with you!