Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Cloak of Anonymity

For the first time in my 45 years, I attended a professional conference.

I know--45 years old and I'm finally a grownup.

It felt weird to leave the house before the kids and get home after they had dug through the pantry for a snack and dispersed to friends and fun.

Aside from the initial weirdness of it all, I enjoyed it. I loved how I could pick any random table full of people and start up a conversation about education--and they would love to talk about it! I know I burden people around me much of the time with my obsession passion for education, so this was refreshing for me.

200+ educators attended this conference, and by the end of two days, you began to recognize people. "I sat by her yesterday, and she asks too many questions" or "He's the principal from Dysart district, nice guy" or "Tolleson School District always sits at that table, so I better find a different seat" or "Her hair is way different today--which is the real her?"

A funny thing happened while I was there . . .
One of the strange facets of online education is the complete anonymity you experience as you "interact" with classmates and instructors. While the instructors post photos of themselves in their bios and occasionally use a video to illustrate a point, all of the students are just names on the screen. Sure, I've become familiar with names, but I could sit next to one of them on a bus and have no idea who they were. A little foreshadowing here, folks . . .

The second class of the day focused on the social/emotional needs of gifted kids. I chose a seat on the end of the second row and got myself all comfy--pulled out my notepad and pen, made sure my phone was on silent, popped open a can of V8 (I was living the high life, right?). Just as the lecturers were about to begin, two figures appeared in the doorway. Two figures I recognized immediately as ASU professors. One professor has taught three of my previous classes, and the other is teaching my current class. They scanned the room for two empty chairs together--and excused themselves as the squeezed past me to the seats on my left. Current professor right next to me and past professor on her left.


Before continuing with this story, I must ask you a question:

What would you do in this situation?

Would you introduce yourself and gush about their work? Would you wait until the class was over to say anything? Would you cower and cover your badge, hoping they wouldn't recognize your name? Would you grab your V8 from under your chair and run? Remember, the lecture is beginning.

What would you do?

I opted for silence at the moment, thinking I might say something when the lecture concluded. Pretty safe, right?

The lecture began, and I sipped my tomato juice and took notes on asynchronous development and Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities Theory (I know. You are wishing you were there!).

My current professor pulled out her MacBook Pro and powered it up, presumably to take notes.


She pulled up a screen familiar to me.
Was she . . .

She was. She clicked on some secret panel and up popped . . .


What would you do in this situation?

Now what do I do?

I'm an inherently nosy person, and I could NOT keep my attention on the lecture at this point. Glance at the speaker, get pulled back to the computer screen to my left. Back at the speaker, jot a few notes, back to the computer screen.

What was she doing?


She would occasionally stop and listen to the lecture, read another quiz, record the grade and a short comment, then move on to the next student's test.

Are you thinking what I was thinking at that moment? I was thinking, "Will she get to mine while she's in here?"

My last name starts with D, and she had begun at the top of the alphabet.

Sure enough, I watched her click on MY name and open up MY quiz. 

Yeah. Twilight Zone moment.

By this point, the lecture was wrapping up, people were asking questions and shoving their notes into their bags because it was lunchtime, and the food was impressive. And good. And teachers don't like being late. So, I return to my original question:

What would you do in this situation?

I had fully intended to introduce myself after the lecture, but now . . . 

I didn't.

I walked out,  swished a bank shot with my empty V8 can, and headed for the lobby.

Completely undetected.

I felt like I'd beaten the system somehow or cheated or won the lottery or at the very least violated her confidence or something. 

But it was awesome. And weird. 

What would you have done? 

Postscript: The class right after lunch was taught by this professor. When I entered the room, I introduced myself to her, and she warmly greeted me. And then, I'm sure, she promptly forgot me. Because that is what online education does to you.

It makes you invisible unless you're both logged in.


  1. Definitely a twilight zone moment. I don't think I would have said anything either.

  2. That's crazy. I probably would have done exactly what you did.

  3. I think I would have started whispering "wow, that quiz deserves full points"...

  4. I would have done exactly as you did.