I was – and continue to be- really excited about the return to class for the new term. I was first to the first in-person all-staff Teaching and Learning session since the pandemic started, arriving at least an hour early. So I’m really sorry that my colleagues may have seen me ‘leg it’ just before the beginning of our first chance to gather in two years. 

I assume it has something to do with the forced isolation of the Covid period. I’ve gotten used to being socially distant. Or my people-processing muscles have deteriorated from lack of use. But for one reason or another, I just had to get out and now, wish to share a little what I was feeling. 

If you imagine an old record player with a vinyl album. It begins playing OK, but then as new people enter a room it starts to speed up, ever so slightly. If people arrive gradually, then the ear can kind of adapt to ensure the information is received and understood – if not enjoyed. Eventually though, the record is being played too fast for any information to be transferred and it becomes painful noise. This becomes a crisis when you are engaged directly or asked a question – this is like scratching the record and causing it to jump. Suddenly you have a vinyl playing too fast, screeching painful sound, and continuously jumping. 

A second metaphor is like a selection of boxes each connected and containing a lightbulb. Normally the bulbs turn on and off when instructed, occasionally simultaneously and randomly firing a different box. This results in distraction for some, and for others in deep insight and inspiration. In a normal setting, this can be managed and over time, routines put in place to ensure the correct boxes are lighting, and that interactions of box sequences are organised as to ensure high productivity. However, in a confined space, with many unstructured meetings and interactions, boxes are lit and switched off continuously and without control. This results in a strobe effect going off inside my head and nowhere to escape. 

So that’s about how I felt on the day of the Teaching and Learning session. Despite the social anxiety, I certainly look forward to connecting over the course of the next few weeks…hopefully in a little more space and comfort!   

Stephen King is a Senior Lecturer in Media at Middlesex University Dubai