Why ‘mmmhmmm’ matters (and Zoom discussions will never feel natural)
By Audrey Dietz
We’re often asked, what makes InSpace different from Zoom, Class, Engageli, and all of the other conferencing or virtual classroom platforms available.
Many of the reasons are obvious upon entering an InSpace session: the ability to move, visually connected breakout rooms, customizable backgrounds, side-by-side collaboration tools.
But today, we’re going to talk about why InSpace is a game-changing platform in the world of virtual education.
InSpace technology treats audio in a totally different way from every other platform. Proximity audio allows for multiple conversations to take place at the same time in class sessions. Students can move around the room at their own pace, stepping in and out of conversations. And most subtly of all, when two people are speaking at the same time, InSpace doesn’t ‘cut off’ one speaker’s audio and push the other into the ‘spotlight’.
With InSpace, everyone has equity of voice.
Overlapping audio allows for those ‘mmmhmmms’, assenting ‘yeahs’, and nonverbal social cues that help nudge a conversation along, build consensus, and raise the energy of a classroom. This same tech allows for dissent and healthy disagreement to flourish in the classroom as well.
But why is this so important? And why can this help educators recapture the magic of a physical classroom in the online world?
Visit any news website these days, and you’re bound to see an op-ed wondering if higher education is declining, burning, or on the outs. Teaching virtually on subpar platforms designed for business meetings was admittedly not ideal, and strained the public’s perception of education. For a while, the wider world caught a glimpse of educators as the sage-on-the-stage trope most of us abandoned years ago, as we struggled to fit into the featured-speaker mold required by top-down platforms like Zoom.
So here’s the thing. Education is not dying. In fact, education—and educators—are one of the enduring truths of our species. At InSpace, we believe above all else in educators and in their incredible value. We don’t believe that edtech’s mission is to save education from itself, or to force change upon some monolith that’s resistant to change, clinging to the past.
Far from it. In fact, we’re fighting to preserve education as we’ve always known it to be at its finest.
Let’s talk about what was lost during the pandemic. We lost lives, we lost shared time, we lost community, we lost connection, we lost communal space, we lost small moments and chance encounters in hallways and study carrels and office hours. We lost people, in so many ways.
Now, look closely at the makeshift virtual classroom platforms of the pandemic era. What we lost there stems entirely from people as well. Every instructor knows that if we structure our lessons purely to convey information to students—with the instructor always at the center of the action—then yes, we might as well give up the ghost to Wikipedia.
That’s not what our purpose at InSpace has ever been, and the tech out there trying to replace educators with automated tasks is eventually going to stumble on its fatal flaw: education and learning has always, always been about humans and the ways they connect together and make sense of the world. This is the struggle of the virtual instructor: to keep humans at the center of a virtual classroom.
That’s why InSpace exists: to support instructors in bringing their full selves, skillsets and expertise into the virtual world.
The magic in our classrooms comes from the overlapping lives within them. InSpace builds on this by creating the opportunity to overhear conversations, to assent with an ‘mmmhmmm,’ to build seamlessly on someone’s statement through conversational turn-taking. It also comes from the chance to disagree, to speak with a quiet voice and still be heard, and to learn from everyone and not just the loudest or most powerful voice in the room. The energy of a classroom where this is happening is palpable. It builds throughout the class and hooks the learners. Every good lesson has a conflict— some kind of question in need of pursuing, arguing or critiquing. The irreplaceable scholarship comes from being in space together to engage in that challenge.
InSpace believes in educators. We believe in people. We believe in the power of context, connection, and community to build the classrooms our students deserve, classrooms where knowledge builds in every corner and conversation flows organically from room to room. We all have a voice here. If you’d like to try InSpace for yourself, visit https://InSpace.chat/try.