Online teaching is not prop comedy

Because of coronavirus, my first teaching semester at Beijing Normal University is all online. Add that it’s a new class, and that I am teaching it in Chinese, and it all starts to look pretty stressful. Changing to a new language isn’t just a matter of picking up new vocabulary–you have to change to a whole new system of thinking. I was already deeply impressed by my Chinese colleagues who learned to teach in English. Now that I am doing the same thing in reverse, I am super impressed.

The class in question is a graduate seminar on food studies, and just to liven things up, I started bringing in food related to that day’s readings.

So on the day we talked about global food security (i.e., food crises brought about by diversion of corn crops),  I halfway through the lecture started gnawing on an ear of corn.

When we talked about extensive soybean farming for China’s pork industry, I suddenly pulled out a giant plate of bacon. All without a word, mind you, just “sorry, do you mind if I have a snack?”

This week we talked about branding, with readings on Starbucks. Now I don’t especially dislike Starbucks as a corporation, but boy I can’t stand their coffee. So I definitely wasn’t going to do that.

Instead, I dropped by the 7-11, and bought every branded snack I could find. My plan was that every time we said the word “brand,” I would pull out a bag of something, hold it up to the camera, and take a bite.

That’s right, Wayne’s World 2, I stole your bit.

Now “every branded good” in a 7-11 is a bit of an exaggeration, but I still got a pretty good selection. Definitely enough to power a late night philosophy session.

Like, does a flower even know it’s a flower?

Again, the plan was to hold up a random snack and take a bite every time we mentioned the word “brand.” Which is fine until you remember that it was a three hour seminar about brands.

Basically, I assumed that someone would call me on the joke, and that would be that. There was no contingency thinking for that not happening. And I wasn’t about to stop the joke halfway through. No way.

So at the end of the day, we all got to know a lot more about branding, and I was reminded what it feels like to be a college sophomore who just moved out of the dorms.

It feels nauseating.


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