Editor’s note: This is a satirical article.
During the past 15 years, Dalhousie University history professor Kevin Morris says he has developed a reputation as the “chill professor around campus.” But he’s found this reputation difficult to maintain during virtual learning.
“Yeah, the students, or ‘pupes’ as I call my pupils, are always stopping me in the quad to say hey or kick around the [hacky] sack,” Morris said in a Zoom interview with the Dalhousie Gazette. “They say things like, ‘Yo Kev’ — they call me Kev — ‘dope lecture today!’ You know, things like that, like the word ‘dope.’”
But things are different now. Like most Canadian universities, Dalhousie has shifted to a largely asynchronous, online learning model, meaning Morris now pre-records his lectures for his students to watch on their own schedule.
“It’s been rough. I won’t lie,” said Morris. “Normally I’ll crack a few jokes right off the top just so the pupes know I’m not some stuffy egghead. But it’s awkward without an audience, you know? I’ve had to re-record my lectures three, four, sometimes six times just to get the jokes right.”
Lecture jokes don’t land asynchronously
When asked if he normally gets laughs during live lectures, Morris declined to comment.
Besides jokes, Morris had a few other in-class tricks he uses to communicate his chillness. But most of those tricks are difficult to execute in an online format.
“I always do this bit during the first lecture where I throw the textbook out the window,” Morris said. “It’s supposed to show them I don’t really care about the rules.”
Amanda Russell, one of Morris’ students, said that bit didn’t translate well to this year’s first pre-recorded lecture.
“He just shared his screen and dragged the textbook PDF from the documents folder to the trash bin and yelled, ‘Yeah, I just did that,’” said Russell. “I don’t think it really had the effect he wanted it to. I just lowered my volume a bit.”
Despite this stunt, Morris’s class still has a required text. To further demonstrate his anti-establishment approach, Morris provided the text for free via a PDF from a Russian website. He sent it to students on the first day of class in a Dropbox folder entitled, “Not payin’ fo’ that shit.”
Most of the students had already purchased the textbook, co-authored by Morris, from the Dal bookstore for $574.99 plus tax.
According to Morris, he’s also had technical difficulties when recording his lecture videos.
“Shot framing has been my biggest challenge,” Morris said. “I’ve been having trouble keeping my face in the shot while also making it clear that I’m casually leaning on my desk in an improvised manner. I usually end up sort of scrunching my body so it all fits in the frame.”
Morris said he remembers when he was a university student, which was “more recent than you might think,” he hated sitting through long lectures. Because of this, he makes sure to give his students frequent breaks.
“I used to call them texting breaks, but nobody texts anymore,” said Morris. “I’ve been workshopping some new types of breaks for the pupes. I just heard of this new thing everyone’s using called Quibi. I think it’s like Netflix, but the videos are shorter. That could be a cool break.”
Third-year arts student Jeffrey MacIsaac said while he appreciates the breaks in Morris’s lectures, he’d rather decide for himself how he spends them.
“You just feel kind of sorry for the guy,” MacIsaac said. “Last week during break I went to make myself a sandwich and when I came back there’s Morris on my screen asking us to follow him into a downward dog.”
Morris’s weekly mandatory email survey resulted in mixed reviews for a “yoga break.”
Outside of class, Morris said he typically has an open-door policy. He frequently hosts “rap sessions” in his office for students to talk about course concepts or “whatever’s trending on the charts.”
“I usually kicked off those rap sessions with some fire rhymes,” Morris said.
While attendance at those in-person rap sessions during the pre-COVID-19 years was sparse, Morris hopes the online version will take off.
“I’ve started hosting the rap sessions on Discord,” a wide-eyed Morris said while frantically gesturing toward a whiteboard with ‘chill prof things’ written at the centre of an elaborate mind map. “I’m still trying to think of a catchy name for them though. I think, once I nail down a name, people will start coming. Wait, oh my God. DISCO SESH!”
Russell said it’s frustrating hearing about her professor’s efforts to ensure his chill reputation survives the pandemic.
“We haven’t received a single piece of grading or feedback the entire year,” Russell said.