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The Zoom Chat Solves Education Problems We Didn’t Even Know We Had

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When my college went online in March, the overarching education philosophy was Let’s try to keep things normal. Of course none of us knew what that would look like, including me. I’m an undergraduate who works as a writing fellow—a cross between a peer tutor and a TA—in an introductory writing seminar. My “normal” had been walking around a classroom as students worked on their projects, answering questions and giving feedback, while the professor took aside small groups in another room.



a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: Zoom has some surprising benefits. Chris Montgomery / Unsplash


© Provided by Slate
Zoom has some surprising benefits. Chris Montgomery / Unsplash

When the professor and I translated this structure online, some of it worked: We could keep the small group/large group dynamic with a breakout room and a main session. But in that main session, I struggled to help students the way I could in person. I had no way to look over someone’s shoulder at her draft or gather the three students who were having problems sourcing research. More than that, I couldn’t address individual students without the discomfort of the entire class looking on. I couldn’t walk over to a student who’d been having trouble understanding the literature review genre, and ask him if he’d been able to emulate the model lit review’s style of reasoning. In a physical classroom, that’s a routine check-in; in a Zoom meeting, it’s a public shaming.

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So our first few online classes were very quiet. Students couldn’t sort themselves into groups or partnerships in the main room, and I didn’t know how to talk to them beyond asking, “Any questions?” at the beginning of each session. And eventually we all realized something I was experiencing in my own classes, too: The least effective virtual classrooms are the ones that attempt to imitate physical classrooms.

The urge

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A Life on Our Planet Nails the Planetary Problems But Misses the Political Ones

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David Attenborough is 93. Over the course of his lifetime, the beloved natural historian and broadcaster has seen the planet go through unimaginable changes. Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have soared, as has the human population, while biodiversity has declined precipitously. He details these shifts in a new documentary released on Netflix on Sunday, which he calls his “witness statement” for the natural world.



David Attenborough wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: David Attenborough in the new film David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet.


© Screenshot: Netflix (Getty Images)
David Attenborough in the new film David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet.

The new film, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, beautifully and persuasively argues in favor of a fundamental reshaping of humanity’s relationship with nature. But in doing so, it misses something more subtle: the fact that not all of humanity are equally responsible for exploiting Earth.

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That’s not to say it’s not well worth a watch. The new movie is both deeply moving and visually stunning. In it, we’re treated to footage of Attenborough’s decades of adventures chronicling incredible ecosystems around the globe, from the Amazon rainforest to the Arctic.

As is typical for an Attenborough film, the footage is paired with equally lush narration, in which the historian explains the ways he saw the world shift from his up-close-and-personal vantage point. Species that were once common became scarce and hard to find. More coral, under stress from unprecedentedly high ocean temperatures, begun to expel its colorful algae and turn a deathly white. More trees were cleared for agriculture. And thanks to power plants and vehicles spewing out far more dangerous planet-warming pollutants and the devastation of the world’s carbon sinks, the planet has warmed by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) in his lifetime. 

“We are facing nothing less than the collapse of the living world,” he says in the movie.

If we