Making the Most of Virtual Connections. Guest Post: Michael Schlitzer, UMBC Data Science Graduate Student

Do you remember your first day of school ever?  Do you remember the excitement that you felt?  The smiles?  The nerves?  Can you remember what it was like to have your parent walk you to your first-grade class and then *gasp* leave you to stay there all day? 

1st day of school! (Michael’s daughter)

Now, do you remember your first day of class at USG?  Maybe you were a little less excited, but I’ll bet you remember the nervousness anticipation while you tried to find the classroom and then waited for the professor to walk into the room? 

Well, imagine that your professor walked to the head of room, but never turned around.  She just stands there, with her back to you, and begins to lecture.

Michael Schlitzer, UMBC Data Science Graduate Student

Right away you would think that was a little odd, wouldn’t you?  She thinks it’s a little odd too because she says “You don’t need to see me.  Besides, my hair is a mess!”

It’s hard to imagine that scenario “in real life” and yet, that approach seems to be what we expect as a baseline during COVID, and not just from our professors, but also from each other.  We’ll FaceTime with our friends and go on TikTok until the cows come home but be on camera in class?!

I sat in on my first video conference all the way back in 1987 and have worked in various aspects of the Audio Visual and video conferencing industries since 1993.  Building teams when team members are geographically distributed – like we all are now, during COVID – is a skill that I have been developing over my entire career, and it is one that I think will help you get the most out of your USG experience during COVID.  And who knows, it will probably help you professionally as well because even when thing get “back to normal” remote work is going to be an enormous part of the job market equation, so it’s a good idea to practice now.

The disconnect between the adoption rates of personal and professional technology is fairly astounding.  College-age students almost don’t remember a time when they couldn’t see the people they were talking to on their phones, but when they get to class (or work) all of a sudden they become camera shy.

We connect to the physical presence of people, not to names on a screen.  As a student, you want your professors to know who you are!  And professors, you are the stars of the show – you are why we, the students, are here; we would really like to see you.  One of the best parts of the college experience is getting to know your classmates and you just can’t really know someone that you’ve never seen.

Maybe you don’t need your camera on all the time, but if you are speaking, or working in a small group or a team, or participating in a USG student event it really is a best practice to turn on your camera – that’s exactly how it would be on campus, so why is it so scary from a distance?

I want to share two remote access experiences that were made possible by the magic of video conferencing at USG.

USG has lots of student events that are a lot of fun, including virtual ones that you can find out about here. Over the winter I attended a caricature drawing event and got to meet all sorts of nice people while we all had our worst physical features exaggerated for fun.  My favorite part of that event was finding out why students chose USG for their education – it was very informative and helped us to connect.

The other experiences in this strange COVID time at USG came over the summer when I worked on a team with my classmate Isabelle.  We met several times a week in that short semester to work on our project and we always had our cameras on as we worked together and got to know each other.  I saw her kids and pets, she saw (and heard) mine, and we did well on our project, while learning about each other.  So, when I joined a class this Spring and saw Isabelle’s name, we had a genuine reunion; we were happy to see each other again.

Video is important to human communications.  Without it, FaceTime would be just… Time and TikTok would be just… I don’t know, Tok?  Whatever it would be, it would be much less entertaining. 

Here’s a true statement: people are more important than things.  Don’t let COVID rob you of the best part of the USG experience: connecting with people from all over the world, right here in Montgomery County, Maryland.

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