Camera On or Off? The Online Ecologies We Don’t Know How to Interact Within (Yet)

So, quick recap: when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, many schools and universities went online and remain that way to this day. You know how it is. We’ve all been living it for what feels like forever and also somehow five minutes. 

With online school came the ubiquitous use of Zoom, the video conferencing application we’re all a bit too used to by now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely grateful for Zoom. Without it, I’d never have gotten the chance to continue my education. Until quite recently, no such technology existed that allowed professors and students to communicate across thousands of miles. 

Zoom Tips 2020 – The Patriot VoiceBut there’s one aspect of Zoom calling that I still just can’t get used to: being on camera. I’m confident many of my classmates feel the same way. While some professors (especially in small classes) require students to have their cameras on during class, many don’t, leaving the choice of “to show my face or not” up to students. Sometimes, students turn their cameras on so as to try to engage more with professors and show their attention. That makes sense to me. From an educator point of view, I can only imagine how disheartening it might be to talk to what looks like no one. Yet oftentimes, at least in my and many of my friends’ cases, entire lectures and recitation sections are nothing but a sea of black squares. 

Personally, I usually have my camera off, but not out of malice or lack of engagement in the class. I’m sure that’s the case for most students. But I still want to participate in my synchronous classes. The option that leaves me: asking and answering questions in the chat box feature.

The chat box has been a surprisingly useful tool for me over the last year, and from my and my friends’ experiences, it seems to have done the same for many other students. In my classes, people are constantly asking questions directed at our professors or TAs in the chat box. We’re also using it to talk amongst ourselves, in a sense. We know the chat isn’t private, yet students can often be found answering each others’ queries, reacting to things the professor said, and making jokes. The chat box has been a haven for people like me too anxious to turn on our cameras yet motivated enough to want to participate in class. 

I have a pet theory about why it seems like so many students prefer the chat to being on camera. I think it has something to do with how most of us are comfortable existing online: as text on a screen only, as a disembodied voice rather than a person on video in their bedroom wearing sweatpants. For a long time, the only way we as individuals communicated online was via written communication. Email, instant messaging, and onto early social media sites like MySpace and Yahoo. Nowadays, plenty of writing-based social media platforms are still popular: Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Facebook, and etc. 

New MySpace Logo More Inspired than Gap Logo - PR News

This phenomenon reminded me of some ideas from Marilyn Cooper’s article “The Ecology of Writing“. Cooper discusses how there are different “ecologies” for writing (and, more broadly, communication). These ecologies are vast webs of sociocultural know-how and discourse, and they effect how we as writers or speakers choose to convey our thoughts. Five interconnected systems compose every ecology: the system of ideas, the system of purposes, the system of interpersonal interactions, the system of cultural norms, and the system of textual forms. Audience is also an important part of Cooper’s model. According to the older school of thought– the cognitive process model– the audience of a text is an imagined entity in the mind of a solitary author. In Cooper’s ecological model, the audience are real readers with whom writers share and edit their texts.

I don’t think we as a society have decided how (or what) exactly these five systems are in the modern ecology of Zoom. I think we are trying our best to act according to previous systems that are actually part of different models. After all, the rules and mores under each of the five categories, all of which prop up the ecology of “school”, have changed due to the online format. How do interpersonal interactions work when the lag accidentally causes two people to talk over each other? How is a student to grasp at ideas without seeing, hearing, touching them in person? What are the norms of this place?

There is a precedent for online behavior and discourse. It’s just not Zoom. It’s an amalgamation of customs and conventions that developed over time across various online communication platforms. I think we students are relying on the conventions we’ve picked up over our time on different platforms to inform how we interact on Zoom. I think students who rely on the chat box feature are more comfortable using the textual form of the written word, as opposed to speaking up on camera. Which makes sense: the written word is a textual form most of us are comfortable with, and it’s been around online for a long time.

But speaking face-to-face is also a textual form most of us are comfortable with, so why is speaking up on Zoom so difficult sometimes? I think the answer might have to do with our conception of audience. When school is conducted in-person, students have no choice but to view their educators and peers as “real readers” with whom they can interact. We’re used to speaking aloud to real readers (or listeners). But on Zoom, I think we sometimes see our educators and peers as… distant. Unreal. Like imaginary people represented by squares on a screen. Like the audience posited by the cognitive process model. I don’t think most of us are used to speaking aloud to that audience. But writing to them? We do that all the time.

I guess only time will tell what the social mores of Zoom will become. Or, hopefully, it won’t. Chat boxes are fine, but I’d like to get back to an ecology I’m used to sometime soon. But at least our brief migration to Zoomland will have taught us a lot about ourselves and how we behave online.

Online Learning and Special Education

The COVID-19 pandemic created a challenge for teachers, parents, and students in special education. It came with all the issues that hit the broader education community, and additional concerns about how the students would handle learning under these new conditions. Students in special education classrooms usually need a structured, consistent schedule, and that was more difficult to maintain while working remotely.

Winn and Behizadeh emphasized a right to education, specifically literacy education, and it is naturally easy to worry about fulfilling those obligations for special education students when they suddenly found themselves in a completely different setting, with a strange new routine none of them were used to.

Open laptop that says online learning, Writing utensils, and a notebook sitting on a desk

By law, schools were still required to provide special education services during remote learning, which included various services in addition to general education curricula like reading and math. The problem is that accessing these services could be difficult. Parents were often at a loss as to what to do. This also came with them having to basically become teachers themselves and try different learning methods till they found something that worked for their child.

IEP assessments became an issue too. The school must evaluate every child’s IEP and determine whether education goals were being met and what needed to be rewritten in light of the student’s current needs. With remote learning however, correctly evaluating these things could prove difficult for special education teachers and the aides who are meant to help students navigate through their time at school.

It was a rough year for special education, but hopefully things will begin to look up from here on out. More schools in Ohio are back in person (whether part-time or full-time) which should mitigate the issues that arose around special education. Being back in a physical classroom can give students the structure and consistency they need to learn.

Fear the Bots…Or Not

Line drawing of connected dots made to look like a human reaching out with the letters "AI" on the palm of its handIn 2014, Stephen Hawking gravely warned against creating Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) devices that could match or surpass human abilities. Hawking’s fears are not unique or new – but are they warranted? Could A.I. ever really replace a living, breathing person?

The short answer is “maybe.” As technology advances, use of A.I. will likely continue to expand across all industries. In classrooms, bots can be used to grade papers, thus potentially freeing up instructors to spend more time with students. Outside of the classroom, students might try to use a bot to write a paper for them. A.I. even beat contestants on Jeopardy!

Personally, it is a little terrifying to consider all of the different ways that A.I. might take over human thought processes. At what point will our world start to look like a real life version of Ex Machina or i,Robot?

The reality is that A.I. is still relatively young in the grand scheme of technological advances. While it is true that A.I. has advanced to mimic human thought processes such as those described above, there are massive limitations in what A.I. can do.

In 2019, an A.I. device, Project Debater, went head-to-head with a human economic consultant to debate whether or not preschools should be subsidized by the public. While Project Debater had all of the same facts and figures as its human opponent, the machine was not able to argue successfully. Multi-Colored Mechanical Gears in the Shape of a Human Brain

A.I. devices mirror humans when it comes to logic and facts. But when it comes to abstract concepts and rhetorical persuasion, A.I. can’t compete. And according to some experts, it never will. Abstract ideas are not easily replicable and often don’t conform to any set patterns or rules, making them nearly impossible to create in the form of a machine. Similarly, the art of rhetorical persuasion requires a certain emotion to be conveyed from speaker or writer to the intended audience.

So, put the fears aside. While A.I. will continue to advance at the simple stuff, it will not be able to replace the core of what makes humans human.

Vaccinations, Public Health Rhetoric, and Snapchat Stories: How Online Writing has Affected Vaccination Efforts

If you live in Ohio and are currently located in the Columbus area, you may know the struggle of getting a COVID vaccine. Just look at the map below to see how the distribution of appointment unavailability is concentrated in Columbus. Compared to other large population centers in Ohio, Columbus is by far experiencing the most shortages. Even with places like the Schottenstein center having delivered over 79,000 vaccines, the demand for vaccination in the Columbus area is higher than the supply.

A map of ohio that highlights vaccine availability

But why is this? As discussed in Week 12, the pandemic has caused an increase in coalitions and relational literacies in regards to health on this specific issue. We in Columbus, especially those who attend OSU, are lucky to have a close relationship to health information via the Wexner Medical Center. They provide so much information on health and wellness, and many students and alum value their writing greatly.


With the integration of health information so strong in the Columbus community, it seems to me there has been an even greater response to vaccination. Even in my personal communities, everyone I know is actively trying to book a vaccine appointment or has booked an appointment. We, as OSU students and community members, are more aware of how important getting vaccinated as quickly as possible is, and we, therefore, have a much higher demand for vaccine appointments.


This increase in availability may be more of a reflection of trying to support rural and minority communities, who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks. This increase in appointment availability will hopefully help these rural communities get over some of the vaccine hesitancy presents there. Unlike in Columbus, many people in rural communities may not be able or willing to take a vaccine appointment time that interferes with their work or life schedule. There will also need to be a bigger push of public health writing and rhetoric to decrease vaccine hesitancy, and it will need to target the specific fears and hangups each community has.


Unfortunately, this lack of appointments means people like me, a 22-year-old college student, have a much harder time accessing vaccines. We want to be able to celebrate our graduations safely, but this means we need to be vaccinated within the next week if it’s not already too late. But fortunately, social media has helped many people access the vaccine in an alternative way. While you shouldn’t be posting your vaccine card, posting about getting a vaccine is a way of sharing support for a public health issue. It also makes others aware of how they can get vaccinated. I personally found access to a vaccine through social media. While it may be used to push anti-vax rhetoric, social media also has the power to get us back to normal even faster.

Wikipedia: To Cite or Not To Cite

I can remember hearing countless time during my education, “make sure to cite your sources, but do not use Wikipedia as one of your sources.” I’m sure many of you have heard the same thing.

What makes Wikipedia a non-credible source to many? This might help explain why. But is it really that unreliable? Perhaps Wikipedia is more than we give it credit for.

Wikipedia Logo

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia

Compared to other sources, Wikipedia offers multiperspectivalism. Many people, voluntarily, contribute and edit Wikipedia pages. While information added can be incorrect, it is constantly being edited; each page being fine tuned and expanded. Every contributor comes to Wikipedia with their own background, knowledge and perspective. That is what makes Wikipedia so diverse, expansive and collaborative.

In “Networked Expertise in the Era of Many-to-many Communication: On Wikipedia and Invention,” Pfister discusses the role multiperspectivalism plays for Wikipedia:

If the first way that many-to-many communication reshapes the relationship between invention and expertise is to reshuffle traditional attention routines, the second significant effect of these new communication environments is a facilitation of multiperspectivalism. This multiperspectivalism emerges, not necessarily in the main article entry itself, but in the edit history and talk pages that constitute the substrata of Wikipedia. Herbert Gans (1979/2004, 2011) famously argued that traditional top-down news formats privilege particular views with the consequence that what gets covered is a very narrow slice of the actual news. How that news is framed shapes how citizens attend to it—if at all. Multiperspectival news, his proposed alternative, is journalism that draws in the opinions of the many in an attempt to better encompass available opinions…If multiperspectival news is desirable, then surely so is a multiperspectival encyclopedia. The many-to-many communication on the edit and talk pages reveals behind[1]the-scenes conflicts from multiple perspectives that need(ed) negotiation before some contingent consensus was reached.

Many-to-many communication – isn’t that better than one source with one perspective? I’d think so.

Are educators concerns with Wikipedia justified? Somewhat.

While Wikipedia may not always be accurate, it is a culmination of many people coming together to add their own knowledge. So next time you write an academic paper, use Wikipedia, but be aware of its accurateness. Instead of relying on it’s validity, use it to explore multiple perspectives you might not have considered or known.

The Colorization of Writing

History has shown that writing by black and white people are not perceive the same, even if both writings are grammatically correct.

An early example of this is Phillis Wheatley. She was an African American slave who published her own poetry. She wrote her poetry so it was grammatically correct and would be read easily and be indistinguishable from white writing. But Thomas Jefferson read her work and said she did not write it because she was black; no black person could ever write poetry that well.

Grammar Tree

Sentence. Noun Phrase: Determiner – The, Noun – man. Verb Phrase: Verb – bit, Noun Phrase: Determiner – the, Noun – dog.

That got me thinking. Aside from Wheatley’s race, what was it about her writing that made Jefferson think she didn’t write it? Her writing followed grammatical rules and was written in a

way to appease white people, so why did he not accept it? Has this judgement regarding overall literacy of African Americans gotten better? Not entirely.

One major discrimination today against African American literacy is African American vernacular, or African American language (AAL). Standard American English (SAE) is what is taught in schools. It is tested on placement tests like the ACT and SAT, but it is not everyone’s primary form of English. In an educational setting, any other form of English is “incorrect.”

In “‘wuz good wit u bro’: Patterns of Digital African American Language Use in Two Modes of Communication,” Cunningham studies the use of AAL. He finds that AAL Follows predictable patterns that a language needs:

Both DAAL text messages and SNS posts served the function of creating brief or concise messages that are visually different from SAE while also approximating the phonological patterns of AAL. Pedagogically, these consistencies of composition and function speak to the literacy practices of DAAL interlocutors, demonstrating their ability to use multiple linguistic varieties, which, if valued, utilized, and examined in the classroom, can be an asset rather than a detriment to rhetorical knowledge, literacy skills, and composing ability. Overall, this research illuminates the multiple linguistic repertoires necessary when composing DAAL and the consistency of linguistic and paralinguistic patterns and functions between the two corpora further suggest the ways in which DAAL is a valuable, pragmatic hybrid literacy.

If AAL is the common form of English for African Americans, it should be accepted in schools. A prior blog post discusses in more detail the change that needs to happen in schools.

Using SAE furthers the stereotype and belief that African American’s can’t write or speak well when they can. Criticism that Wheatley faced is still common in schools today; it just has taken a new form. And it needs to be discussed.

What interests you?

We live in a world where traveling faster than flight means reaching for a handheld device. Where information is packaged up and sent at two thirds the speed of light, and “making money” ranges from buying fake currency to working more than one job to get by. The importance of education and literacy is cementing itself more as a means of finding happiness and purpose than one of survival. And more importantly, the use of interest in educating is fast becoming an imperative to education’s survival. The idea of national literacy means that literacy is no longer a way to excel. Education has become a combination of standardized testing and a doomed attempt to standardized teaching.

The distancing of students from teachers has thrown our educational system into a harsh light. We’re fatigued. In some cases, we’re failing or supplementing our education with other sources. We learn or we don’t, and that success or failure is more based on personal environment or teacher quality. The differentiation of students from each other may be as important as the learning environment and educator, but it is the teacher’s responsibility to be responsible, to teach -through their own behavior- what it means to hold oneself accountable, especially in the education of K-12 students.

Goody/Watts encourage the idea that the cultures with writing systems were propelled into critical inquiry, of observing history with skepticism, and the developing of logical practices. With the advent of the internet and concept of technological literacy, the benefits (or dangers) of writing have been given weaponry. Given the barest introduction, and a community interested in interests, kids today can learn everything they want through such platforms as TedX, Kahn Academy, or Coursera. People can learn languages from native speakers, game-like applications, or forums. Standardized education isn’t possible in a world where bridges are so small that I can ask a professor working at the University of Tokyo their favorite book on introducing architecture and compare it with a The Ohio State University professor’s favorite in the same day.

Holding the interest of the student should be a teachers top priority in the classroom. Teaching through interest inspires passion for education, and teaching against interests kills the desire to grow. We live in a society where we literally don’t have to pay attention to get by, where we have access to substances, both legal and illegal, that will get us through the day. There’s an infinite universe out there and we’re still teaching like knowing precise information is necessary. Like critical thought is secondary. We’re still teaching kids straight out of a love of writing, of learning, and of growing. It’s a problem I ran into a long time ago, and one that took a long time to find a work around. It took looking at myself, and asking a simple and complex question.
What are my interests?

Denial by Design

In December 1948, the United Nations drafted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights to establish fundamental rights and freedoms all nations should protect for their citizens. The document lays the groundwork for human rights laws on the basis that all people are born free and equal in dignity.

Article 26 of the declaration outlays the right to education. To summarize, the right to education involves free and compulsory elementary education, equal access to higher education, and a parent’s right to choose the kind of education given to their children.

But this week’s reading from Winn and Behizadeh puts on a lens on how U.S. schooling systematically denies children, particularly children of color, their right to literacy and education.

Winn and Behizadeh point to evidence that Black students significantly trail behind white students in standardized testing, and predominately white schools can sometimes spend over twice as much per student than schools with larger populations of Black and Latinx students.

How did this happen?

Map of Columbus, Ohio from 1936. Neighborhoods are assigned levels of "mortgage security," and lines are drawn around different levels of security.

Map of Columbus, Ohio from 1936 via Mapping Inequality. Neighborhoods are assigned levels of “mortgage security.”

For one thing, racial inequities continue to be affected by the legacy of redlining.

We can look back historically and see that in the 1930s the federal government began segregating neighborhoods based on race, diverting money and resources away from minority communities.

Because we fund public schools through property taxes, neighborhoods with lower property values have lower-funded schools and lower graduation rates still to this day.

Redlining is technically illegal now, but the country is still affected by its original mapping system.

So, how can we fix it?

Much like the work of Winn and Behizadeh, we need to take a closer look at policies that limit access to education.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has since been replaced by Every Student Succeeds in 2015. Although Every Student Succeeds responds to many of the criticisms of NCLB, it’s still worth keeping a critical eye on standardized tests and proficiency targets.

I’m particularly drawn to S. Green’s assertion that “social justice is about understanding education and access to literacy as civil rights” (Winn and Behizadeh 147).

Tackling Education in the Age of Coronavirus

As we approach the one year anniversary of the Coronavirus upending American life, it’s a good time to reflect on its potential long term impacts on education. For many across the country, students continue to learn either entirely online or through a hybrid model, combining online schooling with some in-person instruction.

Child Learning at Computer

The burden on students, parents, and teachers to keep track of ever-changing schedules is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the multitude of disruptions wrought by the virus. While transmissions appear to be slowing in some parts of the country, some experts are expressing concern about the effects of a year in quarantine on students.

At the end of every school year, parents and teachers alike worry about students slipping in the summer months. This year, this fear is magnified by the fact that many students have struggled to keep up in an online learning environment. For students who were enrolled in tutoring for reading and writing, online learning has proved to be a poor substitute.

Typically, a student who is falling behind would have access to one-on-one instruction or small groups to help them improve their literacy skills. But for many school districts, this has been a difficult task to replicate virtually. Parents worry that the lack of resources through the school will mean their already struggling student might fall further behind.

Adding to this anxiety, parents feel pressure to teach their children themselves but may lack the time and resources to do so. Particularly for families with limited means or single parent households, the achievement gap can feel more like a canyon.

Inequalities in education have long been a source of anxiety in the United States. In their article, “The Right to Be Literate: Literacy, Education, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” Winn, et. al. note that literacy has become “a new civil rights frontier.” In the time of Coronavirus, inequalities in education have widened.

Group of illustrated children reading books on a bench

So what do we do? Colorado school districts are recognizing the issues outlined above by beefing up their summer school programs. Students will be able to catch up via in-person instruction and the goal is to have smaller class sizes to address each child’s specific needs.

The resources needed to undo the chaos brought onto the education system by the Coronavirus will likely be massive. But experts believe that children, naturally resilient and curious, will fare just fine in the long run. In the meantime, patience is a friend to everyone.

Make it make sense: How AAVE is invalidated by the masses, yet used for capital gains.

English is one of the many languages that is not homogenous. It varies from culture, region, and ethnicity.


Cultural difference and influence are what makes humans unique and special. All stemming from different regions around the world, our style of clothing, the things we eat, and our language adapt to the elements around us.

With this in mind, there is a notion that African American Vernacular English (AAVE) somehow destroys the English language as far to say that it is inappropriate regardless of setting.

However, in a digital culture that’s consistently growing, AAVE is seen at the forefront of the way media agencies and companies communicate their advertising to their consumers.


This video demonstrates how quick companies are to capitalize on terms yet not acknowledge the creator by any regards. The mom states “on fleek” which was a term created and made popular by Black Viner Kayla Newman in 2014. As of today, Kayla has  yet to receive her coins.

The goal here isn’t necessarily to gate keep an entire multitude of lingo and terms made popular by black people, but to legitimize them as part of the way we talk while paying homage to its creators.

In Learning to Read by Civil Rights visionary and leader Malcolm X, he speaks on his frustration on not being able to convey his expression by literary means.

Image result for malcolm x illustration

“In the street, I had been the most articulate hustler out there – I had commanded attention when I said something. But now, trying to write simple English, I not only wasn’t articulate, I wasn’t even functional. How would I sound writing in slang, the way I would say it, something such as, “Look, daddy, let me pull your coat about a cat, Elijah Muhammad”.

Mr.Malcolm has been regarded as one of the great leaders of his time by his methods, teachings and lifestyle, yet somehow he was still placed in a system where he believed the way he spoke was invalidated by the masses.

The masses in question however, were those who conformed to the Eurocentric way of life that seeks to discredit anything that wasn’t rooted in their culture. So, it isn’t necessarily that Mr. Malcolm felt like the way he spoke was wrong, it was the people that felt that way and specifically those of European descent.

The English language grows daily. New terms, phrases, and ideas are formed all the time. It is about time companies, media outlets and the sort show appreciation to the founders. By doing so, it creates a safe space for words to be used without seeming forced or used for alternative intents.