Schools and universities conducting classes online have fostered a new dynamic in the households of students and faculty. Based on living arrangements, the kitchen table, the home office, or the bedroom have acted as classrooms out of necessity.
The challenge for many DePaul students and professors has been finding a space to attend or teach an online class without interference from the people in their lives who also need to do remote work. Freshman Grace Kumar’s home in New York has acted as her lecture hall and the small desk in her mother’s office as her classroom.
“Early on during the pandemic, there were issues with sharing space because my mom, who is a PA, had to do televisits while I had classes so we had to find separate places to work,” Kumar said. “But now, she goes to work and comes home when all my classes are done so our schedules don’t conflict at all.”
Being the only student attending online classes in her household of three has not created as many challenges for Kumar compared to other students who have more people living and working at home. “I get that other students who have siblings might have difficulty finding spaces to do their classes without distractions on top of trying to focus on their online work,” she acknowledged.
Professors have also had to decide which space in their homes worked the best for their classes while keeping the schedules of the other people in their lives in mind. Scott Hibbard, Chair of the Department of Political Science at DePaul, has found his basement office to be the most effective space to teach Zoom classes.
“I feel very fortunate that I have a large enough home that my wife and I can each have our own office spaces without our conversations leeching into rooms or intruding on each other,” he said. “But the situation can be very different for students, people with kids, or multiple people living in a shared space.”
The idea of sharing a space for online classes is actually twofold: we share our homes with other people in our lives that also have classes or work but also with a new audience to whom we are broadcasted.
Hibbard said that he was “much more conscious of the image that shows up on Zoom and how the office might look.” His basement and current classroom, which also houses some exercise equipment, had to be rearranged for his online classes. “You could see a stationary bike
in the background during my classes and meetings and now one of my colleagues always asks me ‘How is the exercise routine going?’”
Eugene Beiriger, a professor of History in the Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, had similar thoughts on having to open up his book-filled home study for classes.
“My enclosed space has now become a public space,” Beiriger said. “Our private spaces, in some ways, can be a reflection of us. A room could come off one way, or it could come off another way.”
Back in New York, Kumar prefers using her mother’s office for classes because “being in your bedroom is very intimate, it’s like you’re inviting strangers in.” Her office space has a “neutral and blank wall so there are no distractions.”
“It seems really nosy,” Kumar said. “People on Zoom can see what your room or decorations look like so you have to stage your room a little bit.”
“It’s an invasion of privacy,” Beiriger said. “I have very close friends who have never been in here. My office is at work. This is my study. But we have to be comfortable with inviting students in.”
Hibbard has always preferred working at his home office; however, its dual purpose as a classroom completely changes the dynamic.
“One of the things we miss about the classroom is that different type of interaction with students in class or walking around the campus,” he said. “It’s much more different than walking into a classroom like, ‘Showtime! Let’s Go!’”
Until those traditional, in-person interactions return to DePaul, students and faculty alike will have to continue being comfortable with compartmentalizing their spaces, setting aside their privacy, and get accustomed to this unique online dynamic.