Editor’s note: This is a satirical article.
Howard Beale has been teaching Gilded Age history at Dalhousie University since 1974. One recent night, at 12:47 a.m., he sleepily walked into his kitchen to get one last piece of pecan pie and noticed an odd light blinking over his desktop computer in the living room. As he got closer, he realized it was his external webcam notifying him it needed new batteries. He wondered why.
Howard rarely uses his webcam as the course he teaches is asynchronous. He thought he only turned the webcam on once a week for his office hours. Howard shrugged, ate his pie and went back to bed. The next day, his daughter came over to try and figure out why the webcam had run out of power so quickly.
“Turns out he had been streaming live on Collaborate Ultra for 51 days,” says Howard’s daughter Louise Beale. Her father had opened Collaborate Ultra for his first set of office hours and never understood he was also supposed to close it.
At first, Howard was embarrassed and concerned that more than 200 students had been able to look into his home whenever they pleased. But it turns out Howard’s constant presence helped many students get through anxious nights of studying amid the difficulty of virtual learning.
“This is legitimately the only thing Dal has ever done to improve student mental health,” said Diana Christensen, a student in Howard’s class.
According to Howard, Dal has reached out to him about continuing the streams. The university has proposed replacing the Student Health and Wellness Centre with a theatre where Howard would be constantly livestreamed.
Students become attached to Beale
“My five roommates and I were all watching when he went to get the pecan pie. We used to keep it on all night on someone’s laptop just in case anything happened,” said Christensen.
“We could tell the camera was blinking and when he got close to it our roommate Josh just started bawling,” she said. “The relief we felt when he went back to bed just made it so much more crushing when Louise turned it off during lunch the next day.”
Another student, Max Schumacher, says Howard’s streams were the only thing that kept him from dropping out of university.
“So that’s pretty much the end of the line for me,” Schumacher said. He’s hoping to attend Saint Mary’s University next year.
Dal wants Beale to continue
“Dal is committed to meeting the mental health needs of its students. If a method of mental health support is successful we will continue to use it, no matter how unconventional,” said university spokesperson Dale Housey in an email to the Dalhousie Gazette.
When asked about the idea, Howard said, “During the Gilded Age, mental health was the responsibility of the asylum.” It is unclear if he understands what exactly the university wants him to do.
According to Louise, adjusting to virtual teaching has been a large challenge for Howard.
“You have to understand, until last year he would write his PowerPoints out by hand and have a [teacher’s assistant] create them,” Louise said.
Amidst this unusual situation, Beale reflects fondly on the earlier days of his time at Dal.
“When I first got here in the 1970s,” he said, “the only thing I’d have to do for a student’s mental health was light their cigarette.”