What ‘Bambi’ can teach us about online class

By Robert Mohr
Executive Staff

Maybe I’m in the minority on this one, but I don’t remember watching Bambi as a kid. I’m sure I did, but it couldn’t have been more than once. So, when I went to trace the origin of the quote, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all,” I was a little surprised to find out it came from Bambi. If you don’t remember the movie, Thumper the rabbit is scolded by his mother for poking fun at Bambi’s wobbly attempts to walk and repeats the saying, which his father has told him.

Wobbly. That’s what these past few weeks of online class have felt like. Connection has been very wobbly. I’ve had classmates share their carefully formulated commentary on a passage only to have to repeat themselves and then give up entirely because their audio was too choppy to understand more than three words. I’ve heard microphones picking up the sounds of barking dogs and household arguments. I’ve seen professors fruitlessly try to share a video clip on their screen with such bad lag that I couldn’t even tell what to look for.

My motivation has also been wobbly. Some days, I genuinely look forward to class, and not just because it’s something to do. I want to see my professor and my classmates and discuss the day’s readings. Other days, I contemplate turning my camera off and going to take a nap, safe in the knowledge that even if I was there, no one could hear what I had to say over the professor’s jet engine of a ceiling fan.

Now, I don’t want to break Thumper’s rule here so I must admit, there have been bright spots in this era of Zoom learning. Sometimes, there’s so many technical issues involved that class just gets cancelled, which is a nice break from, well, nothing. Another time, I finished my partner work early and had a five-minute conversation with someone I didn’t know very well, which was nice. Someone’s cat even crawled around in front of their camera for a little bit once, so I switched my camera view so I could watch it.

More than anything, however, this experience has shown me what makes Sewanee’s in-person education worth the price of admission. That’s because the magic of a Sewanee education isn’t confined to a classroom. A terrible cliché, I know, but when so many of my most important lessons have come from a quick conversation with my professor after class, in line at McClurg or when I stopped by their office just because the door was open, it’s hard to think of any other way to put it.