Happy Christmas to those who celebrate the birth of their Savior, and a Happy Jewish Carpenter day to those who eat Chinese food! In lieu of Frankincense and Myrhh, I bring to you today a higher(?) ed story to gladden (or besmirch) your Yuletide.

Because working full time at UC Law SF and studying full time at the GTU (and parenting full time, of course) was apparently not enough, this fall I taught, via Zoom, an undergraduate course at UC Berkeley which, last I checked, was the highest ranked public university in the nation. I kept most of my tales of woe about this experience off the socials and this blog, though a handful of regular readers (specifically, those who had professional dealings with me that were related to said class) got a running commentary of my experiences with our bright young minds (perhaps more of a running commentary than they would wish for). I may some day share more about this peculiar adventure and what it taught me about the future of humanity. Today, however, offered such a remarkable coda to the experience that it’s just too good not to share.

This morning at 9:35am, I received an email notification that “Melany’s OtterPilot Has Joined Your Meeting.” Seeing as my usual class time was Tuesday at 9:40am, this would appear to be a praiseworthy and timely log-in, except for two facts: (1) the entire semester–including the final exam–ended weeks ago; and (2) today is the day after Xmas which, even if you were spectacularly obtuse and spent your semester under a rock, would have clued you in to the fact that no class would be taking place.

I was ablaze with curiosity, so I logged on as well, to see who I would encounter there. And, indeed, right there in the Zoom room was a black rectangle representing Melany–no different than the one that represented Melany all semester long–waiting for me. I popped on my camera and said, “well, hello there,” and the rectangle disappeared.

A brief Internet search explained that OtterPilot is an AI thingy that essentially attends virtual classes for you so that you don’t have to. It is quite possible that this was in wide use throughout the semester, i.e., for all I know, you guys, I spent the last four months of my one wild and precious life lecturing to 180 bots.

If that was the case, it would certainly explain (1) the turned-off cameras (“respect people’s privacy/trauma/inconvenience/camera shyness”); (2) the lack of participation (“take into account that they’ve been through a pandemic”) and (3) the, how shall we say, lackluster executive function, general knowledge, and communication skills that were in evidence throughout.

Joyeux Noel to all!

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