Learning From a New Perspective

To be honest, it has been difficult for me to connect the digital work we have been doing throughout this course to the concepts of literature and “English” as a whole. While I have learned something entirely different from what I was expecting to in an English course, I was unable to see where our work connected to the concepts of English. Since moving to online learning, this connection has been made easier for me to see as my reliance and relationship with technology has changed so dramatically in the span of a couple of weeks. 

Prior to distance learning, I couldn’t understand how the uses of Github, Voyant Tools, Visual Studio Code, and the other programs we have been using throughout the semester connected to my general concept of English and Literature. I was glad to be learning something I never imagined myself doing: coding (on a small level).  At the beginning of the course, I reorganized my documents folder to better fit this course, and this is something that has aided me in all other aspects of my life. Now, after learning online for about four weeks, my understanding of this course has changed dramatically and how I view work in my other courses has changed as a result of this. I find myself constantly thinking how any of this would be possible without “English,” reading, and literature. Knowledge and information, as cited in Gleick’s novel, has been passed down for centuries through literature and language itself. At some point in time, the idea for the internet must have been drawn out and described upon paper, into some form of literature. With every new technological advancement, for example any of Tesla’s recent releases, will be reported on and written about for the rest of the world to know. Many of Tesla’s innovations have changed how many people view electrical power and will surely be something people read about and reference in years to come. None of this would be possible without “English.” In my work for other classes, I am more aware of my word choices, specifically the repetition of words in my papers. I have caught myself thinking about imputing my essays into VoyantTools to track the frequency of certain words and phrases, to then go back and revise. When revising my work, I have begun to use Review/Tracking/Track Changes in Microsoft Word to analyze my revisions and watch how my own understanding of my work can change as I revise. Like Thoreau, I change words, phrases, and grammar in my writing which then go onto to change the overall meaning of that sentence and finally can change the overall meaning of that work. Our work in terminal and VSC, has led me to prefer typing in plain text (although, I wish there was a spell check feature!) and the simple format it provides. I find myself becoming frustrated with formatting issues in other classes and am better able to understand why author’s and online writers choose to prefer plain text, instead of another program. Being able to spend more time, and the majority of my day on my laptop has been able to see how the coursework throughout this semester has affected my daily life and my own meaning of “English” and literature. 

What I have realized is that this all relates back to communication as a whole. Literature was born from verbal communication, and communication has been strengthened by literature. Distanced based learning has taught me how vital communication is to learning, and how much I rely on in person communication to thrive. I have now adapted this need and have learned to work with my technology to best suit me, and I think that being in this course has better prepared me to do so. Ironically, I think that I took this course at the perfect moment and our current circumstances has taught me the real value in literature and “English.” Every day, we (the human race) use “English” to stay connected, and gain information about the state of the world. In doing this, we are a part of history, and this recording of history was made possible by the changed definition of communication and the innovations in “English.” 

Learning in a New Place

Until spring break, I never fully appreciated how communication links to learning. Living and learning on campus, everything is how it should be. I go to class and we all discuss what we’ve learned for homework and how to move forward. Now that there’s a pandemic and classes have shut down, it becomes a little bit more difficult to learn, for a reason I never saw coming; a lack of mass communication.

Now, of course there is still communication. The professors will always have time to meet with the students and discuss any issues. In fact, this class has a two hour period to chat with the professor during the scheduled class hours, a help page to write to the professor for help, a fill-out sheet to request a one on one video chat with the professor, and ti’s willing to help as well. However, there is still a missing out on general communication with everybody. Being on campus, you can talk with other students outside of class, study together, even just try to further understand what was discussed in class. If somebody missed a day, they can still get notes from a friend in the class. Now, you can’t really do that.

Communication is central to learning, but it is central to everything else too. James Gleick compares the telegraph to biological wiring. He says “…comparing cables to nerves; the nation, or the whole earth, to the human body”. Without communication, there wouldn’t be life as we know it. Communication expanded society at a much quicker rate. Instead of multiple nations trying to come up with something while having minimal communication, most of that being a messenger that can take weeks to months to arrive somewhere, communication began to be almost immediate. Telegraph stations were set up everywhere to quicken the time it takes for information to spread. Then the telephone got involved, having a voice transmitted across the world within a second like it’s nothing. Gleick describes this as ‘…begin to turn society, for the first time, into something like a coherent organism”. People can work together on the same projects around the world, at the same time, at a pace they’ve never been able to before.

Now that I am stuck with remote learning, it becomes difficult for me to learn, because i cannot communicate with everybody in a real time, class setting. I would love to join the scheduled class time video sessions, but unfortunately I have to work during the week now that I am home. It is not only this class that has gotten more difficult. Every class requires a scheduled class time because communication is a key to learning, so every class is becoming more challenging to learn in. However, every obstacle is something that can and should be overcome. We are still learning how to adapt to remote learning, but the more we do it, the more we find a way or a time to communicate with the right people, and still get the information that is needed to pass the class. After all, we have real time communication methods that are way more advanced than the telegraph.

Communication and the Coronavirus

James Gleick’s popular science book The Information also approaches the idea of communication as it was previously seen in 1948. Gleick writes that aside from cable and telephone sets, “The [Bureau of the Census] also counted several thousand broadcasting stations for radio and a few dozen for television, along with newspapers, books, pamphlets, and the mail… the dots and dashes representing letters of the alphabet; the letters representing sounds, and in combination forming words; the words representing some ultimate substrate of meaning…” (5).  

This concept itself is universal as it applies to pretty much every aspect of life today, too. I communicate with people every day, whether it be in person, on my phone, through my gestures/facial expressions, etc. Given how universal this concept is, communication, as shown by Gleick, can also take the form of media as well as the news; specifically, news outlets that are local, national, or international. For example, on any news outlet, information is constantly being delivered to me, as well as an even larger audience of people at once. In the current world we all live in, communication has been problematic during this coronavirus. 

Every day, I scroll through various social media platforms, such as Facebook, and I see what feels like thousands of posts about the virus. Some posts are promotionally used as they are trying to encourage me to buy a mask that is scented and the “best kind out there”; some posts are utterly useless as they repeat the same information found everywhere, telling people to wash their hands, as if people do not know; and some of the posts, on the other hand, are quite informative and educational as there are statistics provided of the areas that are most affected by the virus. 

While news outlets are also beneficial in learning about this virus and ways to prevent its spread, each of them has also been a bit useless. I watch the news pretty frequently with my family, especially since I have been home, and I feel like I just keep hearing the same thing over and over. I know, as I am sure everyone knows, that the unemployment rates are terribly high right now. I also know that different areas everywhere are constantly skyrocketing in the amount of COVID-19 cases. Of course each of these topics is extremely important, but it seems that there is less talk about the future too.

What I desperately wish I could see more of instead is interviews with health personnel who describe their experiences in the hospitals; the ones who are quite literally fighting for our lives as well as their own because of this pandemic. People who could more accurately provide more numbers about the amount of people checking into hospitals because of the virus. I also wish experts could communicate more frequently their projections for when they think life will return to normalcy. Or, if not that, pretty much any information they have that could give people hope about the future of employment, the estimated time of when the curve will start to flatten out, the recession, etc. Just something that gives people more hope. I do know that some of what I wish for is not necessarily possible to discuss right now. I also understand that some of the projections may not have been approximated yet. I do not mean to sound ignorant in expressing these thoughts, but it is just frustrating to feel like there is more about this pandemic that has not been said. 

While the communication of different outlets has not been the greatest thus far, I only hope for improvement so that people can stay informed, educated, and hopeful.