Ghosts in the machine –

If you are in ‘lockdown’ as I am, then you’re now involved in Distance Education. For some, this means attempting to replicate the school meta, in a medium designed to supersede it. Online VCs tied to time-tables, content ported from paper to PDF all serve to replicate school and overcome the issues of a failed vaccine roll out and quarantine program in this country. School is a key motif of a successful nation, a symbol of normality and stability and so it makes sense to ignore children’s-heath, lack of ventilation or that work-sites are prime sites of transmission leading to entire households contracting the dammed ‘rona.

As the months roll on, students become acutely aware that ‘home learning’ is procedural for the most part, lacking connection with friends and overly observable to parents who are bombarded with political messages. The result seems to be ghosting in VCs. Logging on, no webcam, no engagement, just here to tick the box, get the next task and log-off. I have lost count of how many ‘ghosts’ are in VCs after the class (I try to keep VCs to 10 mins tops, and pre-record content-skill components for asynchronous viewing).

The solution seems to be to offer rewards for participation under the time-table VC model – a merit for webcams on or some other token. This doesn’t mean they are more engaged of course. The ghosts in the machine problem particularly effects those who struggle to participate in procedural VCs, have to share devices and connections or cannot connect with friends to nut-out the problem.

Dare I say it: some children thrive online, they follow the process and tick the boxes as well as they do at school. Offering them a merit for a webcam is simply a free trinket. To be motivated means to be moved to do something.

Students can perform extrinsically motivated actions with resentment, resistance, and disinterest or, alternatively, with an attitude of willingness that reflects an inner acceptance of the value or utility of a task.

It is therefore difficult to get self-reports from students in a VC for many reasons. The primary one is that children do no operate or are motivated in the same way a first year University student or Employee in a VC. Why would they? We get very limited self-reports of interest and enjoyment of the activity as teachers.

So here’s the challenge of “home learning”. A student’s feelings of competence will not enhance intrinsic motivation unless they are accompanied by a sense of autonomy. An extrinsic reward does not solve this problem – even if it re-assures adults.

The longer this lockdown runs, the deeper this problem becomes. The gap between those doing okay and those ghosting school becomes more obvious and alarming.

The lockdown classroom is different. There is limited value in pretending is a flip or a port.

The online spaces requires classroom conditions that allow satisfaction of these three basic human needs—that is
that support the innate needs to feel connected, effective, and agentic as one is exposed to new ideas and exercises new skills. Ghosting the class is a power students have and it’s clearly a growing problem.