Face to Face
The First Day of Class
The building is a recently converted former tobacco warehouse, complete with that wonderful, slightly chemical smell that can only be found in new construction. We head down a corridor around a corner to the open concept cafe space. We all stop and take everything in: brick walls, narrow windows, large comfy benches, modern over sized clean lined chairs, exposed pipes, awkwardly placed power outlets and a soda machine with a diet coke apparently left behind for whomever dared take the owner-less beverage. Bright fluorescent light from overhead is absorbed by brick walls and diffused by the natural light sneaking in despite the sun’s attempt to hide behind the building.
As we cautiously move forward and take our seats on the benches and chairs around small circular tables meant for one, we are forced in to an awkward closeness that is mitigated only by the waterfall of cold air pouring over us from the exposed ventilation pipe over head. As we experiment with different configurations in search of comfort, bodies move in the background some alone and rushing, others slowly drifting in pairs in hushed conversations as they make their way down the corridor behind us. I find myself wondering about their thoughts when they quickly glance our way to take in the activity in their periphery.
This is our primary classroom space. I say primary because we will learn during this meeting that we will also have a virtual class space and a class tent an ocean away.
Future class met every week on Tuesdays generally from 3:30-5:30 in a cafe space at Duke University’s Smith Warehouses, the buildings where HASTAC is housed. At least 50% of class meeting time occurred without Cathy present. Leading up to drumbeat the class time extended and generally met from 2:00-5:30 (sometimes longer, but I had a class at my home institution at 6 so I missed some face time). The face to face meetings tended to break the class off in to smaller groups of side conversations as people attempted to organize around their individual ideas and projects they hoped they could bring to drumbeat. During the last two classes pre-drumbeat things took a shift to being more organized and more in the form of a traditional class. We generally made the decision within the first 20 minutes to move in to one of the actual classroom spaces available in the building.
While conversations in the cafe area tended to lean towards disorganization, in the traditional classroom setting we moved in to a semi-circle, one person would speak at a time, and one person write on the board. There were also designated note takers, though Whitney tended to spearhead this role.
What these classes Provided
In addition to organizing the class, the face to face meetings provided a space where members of the class could voice their discomforts with things that were happening. The primary area where people were having discomfort was in role definition and primary goal of the course. Due to the free form nature of the class as well as the diversity of perspectives, there were also many side conversations that voiced desires for some type of syllabus provided by Cathy that would allow the class to be “on the same page”.
The class meetings were very tech friendly. Every one in attendance came with either a laptop or an iPad, and Smart Phones. We also had access to the internet which allowed us to create something of a real time private class stream when necessary.
When it came time to nail things down having tangible things was infinitely more helpful and often times more fun. Despite the tech heaviness of the class, the things we found most valuable were low tech tools and practices, from the use of white boards and post it notes on presentation boards, to the low-tech backchannel (a.k.a. note passing).
Due to the nature of the class, being the first of its kind, etc, we were also put in many abnormal class situations involving visitors. As we were prepping to leave for Drumbeat we had four different visitors (most from HASTAC but also some visiting professors from other Universities), and two different film crews for various companies from the region in addition to my little raspberry camera. While I didn’t mind the visitors, class conversations later let me know that some of my classmates did find the visitors to be distracting.
My Role in the Face to Face meetings
As a member of the class, I would participate in the discussion and provide my input. I also sat with my camera and smart pen and recorded the sessions for this project.