A week or two ago, my podcasting partner, Scott McDonald, used the word “interregnum” in an episode we were recording about online learning. In the episode, Scott discussed how the shift to online learning and remote lessons and meetings during had a huge impact on social connections between students and faculty on campus. While most of us remember how hard it was to foster deep, meaningful conversations in asynchronous discussion boards or during Zoom classes, Scott chose to examine another area of face-to-face learning environments. Midway through our discussion, Scott explains:
“These opportunities for informal interactions that we get in regular classrooms that is much harder in environments like Zoom and more asynchronous environments… There’s no bumping into people in the hallway. There’s no talking to people before or after class. So, you have to recognize that those things are actually important. Those interregnums.”
If you listen to the episode, you’ll hear that I’m clearly flummoxed by hearing this (new to me) word. So, I looked it up.
interregnum (noun) – in-tə-ˈreg-nəm
1. the time during which a throne is vacant between two successive reigns or regimes
2. a period during which the normal functions of government or control are suspended
3. a lapse or pause in a continuous series
In Scott’s use of the word, he’s describing the stuff that happens between the planned activities like meetings and classes. You’re walking to class and bunch into a student and strike up a conversation. Or a student chooses to stick around after class to ask a few questions. Those types of interactions happen in the interregnum, which is harder to design for in online learning environments. When a class (or meeting) starts at 9 AM, people usually show up at 9 AM. If the class (or meeting) ends at 11:30 AM, people promptly log off then.
So, what is an online teacher to do? How does one “plan for the interregnum” when the “interregnum” happens when we’re not online together?
Thinking about this, I realized the suggestions I’d offer are ones that I’ve offered before on this blog. If you’ve a regular reader, you know I’ve talked about the need for fostering social presence in online classes for years. During the pandemic, I wrote a post about how to make Zoom a little more social. If you’re working in an asynchronous environment, check out this post from 2013. While neither post discusses the “interregnum” specifically, I think the strategies can help a motivated instructor better support online students’ need for social connection.
But if you want to hear me and Scott discuss this stuff more deeply, check out the episode “If the future’s online..” which will be available on Wednesday July 27, 2022 on the Science In-Between webpage or wherever you access podcasts.