Energy Vampire/teacher Colin Robinson (source: FXP/giphy)

In this blog I combine elements from pop culture to make sense of the learnings in Open Network Learning (ONL) course. Week 4 looks at blended learning and particularly the role of affect. I make sense of this by drawing on insights from the comedy TV show ‘What We do in the Shadows‘ created by Jemaine Clement and based on the Kiwi cinematic comedic masterpiece by the same name.

‘Affect’ in and of teaching is positioned as how to make sense of face-to-face teaching and particularly what we as teachers frame as learning communities. Clearly, no learning encounter can be devoid of affect – but what ‘affect’ means for teachers and students is different, and the question why it is positioned as central to learning remains if not shrouded in mystery, then at least a bit unexplored scientifically.

Given that the perspective(s) we are exposed to in ONL is almost exclusively that of teachers it comes as no surprise that everyone, including myself lauds the centrality of affect – after all, ’emotional presence is the fourth presence in the so called ‘Community of Inquiry’ framework (Cleveland-Innes 2020). When ‘affect’ is put to play, it is almost exclusively framed in the domain of face-to-face teaching, to make sense of why we still need it. And with ‘we’, while not unified, I will mean us as teachers and I will generalize from that, the blog is written in a particular genre of critical reflexivity called ‘excessive realism’.

I will confess. I became triggered (which is good, during a week that focuses on affect) by the amount of times affect was put forward as being mainly about students, and our altruistic ways of wanting to deliver the best learning experience possible. Contrary to this, I posit that it is perhaps more about teachers who are in love with affect than students. Teachers are in this sense often like the character Colin Robinson in the TV series ‘What We Do In the Shadows’. Colin Robinson is an energy vampire, who unlike ordinary vampires, do not feed on blood but energy. To quote the inevitable TV series wiki “They have the ability to drain a victim of their energy, rather than blood, through conversation or certain acts. Some examples are causing intense boredom, anger or pity in victims.”

Look deep into yourselves. We are all Colin Robinson. Reflexively I will say based on my experience, many if not most within the profession at universities have many of the traits of Colin Robinson. We are “introverts who love our own voice” . In an almost self-loathing manner many of us simultaneously thrive and reject a position where we can leech on the (re)imagined emotions of the audience. We project ourselves in the audience and tell ourselves that many if not all students bask in the sun-rays of our presence, suckling the teats of learning in the enlightened ways we have designed the delivery, and in this equal learning dyad, we are due a debt of affect that we can use to bolster our performance. We look in the mirror and we see more Aristotle and less Colin Robinson. But vampires do not have reflections and thus reflexivity is easily perverted.

The primal instinct of wanting to be heard and seen, revered, remembered, making a difference is a strong driver if the needs of affect displayed by teachers. This is not dissimilar to students, who also want to be heard and seen, but are mostly following the designed path of the teacher – who decides when and where affect is desirable. We make up the illogical and allogical rules, like the author who upkeeps the norms that vampires die in sunlight, do not like garlic and so forth we keep order by governing the acceptability of affect. Certainly emotions should not be part of “objective” science writing, here we need references, APA, and Oxford style – apparently it is even a necessity in blogs, in other encounters such as face-to-face meeting we deem “affect” positive and necessary.

I think going online is scary because it challenges us on the role of affect (for whom?). The online experience is interesting because it in many ways strips the performance down to a delivery, more aching to a newsreader or an actor reading rehearsed lines. But we long for the (student) prop, the audiences who reaffirm our place not merely as a simple newsreader but as a truly important figure of truth, the Teacher. And we are owned our dues. But also here I would sooth the minds of the teachers, we can learn from Colin Robinson. Colin Robinson showed that energy vampires can in fact gain affect and drain energy from victims electronically via the Internet, mostly by trolling and through ‘memes’. Which bring us to Week (blog) #5.

What We do in the Blended Shadows of Community Learning