Teaching and learning with context collapse

What scares me in learning? I might be called upon by the teacher and not have an answer, or not have what is needed to respond. If I do say anything my reply might be so obviously dumb and naive that I should be excluded from higher education forever. I might somehow accidentally advance to a stage I am fundamentally unequipped to cope with and everyone will know, but they won’t say anything because they are too polite. This is common impostor syndrome stuff and saying that does not really help the situation (‘but you see,I really am an impostor so that doesn’t apply to me’). There is another set of trepidations which come before the teaching setting is entered. ‘I might not be able to join or participation will be limited by other things in my life’. ‘I might express my needs and the teacher will be defensive or dismissive.’ ‘I will have some aspect of myself exposed in a way I cannot control’. I am grateful to the many students who have told me about this in various ways.

What scares me in teaching? What students are thinking when there is silence in class. Who is waiting for whom? My tendency to blab. Have I read enough to teach this? Are my memes disco dad level embarrassing? Whether I can put my game face on whatever mental state I am in. The last is a bad one when working from home. There is no entry and exit from the teaching space. Context collapse is unavoidable.

Context collapse is a new one for me but for many colleagues and students with caring roles this is never ending. Context collapse is the inability to separate previously distinct or expected to be distinct roles and audiences. The term is often used in contexts where private and public cannot be separated. Social media invites context collapse. Teaching in the pandemic imposes it. Working from home in the pandemic is not working from home in the pre-lockdown sense. Everyone and everything is there with you. The sounds, feelings, conversations and demands of being at home are all happening at once. The problem of context collapse is the inability to separate the different rhythms of life from each other. Working in the pandemic produces a new form of social time, one that is circular without being rhythmic, and that is elongated without progression.

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