February 26, 2003

Smack. Smack. Smack. Thousands of hits on thousands of tables. Thousands of AU study guides flip open, computers whir to life, monitors emit, emails ping back and forth. And the spirits of thousands of distant-edders cheer in renewal of their commitment to the vow that they will one day finish TME2. We grit our teeth and show ourselves, the AU student body.

I’m good with that image. Except the student body part. How absurd. We’re no student body. I mean, we are anything but corporeal. We seldom even see each other; classmates often exist only in our abstract hopes and beliefs. We are way too dispersed for that allusion. We’re no body.

I’m not suggesting we lack cohesiveness. We have common goals. Like, we all wish AU would just grant us our degrees on speculation or for good behavior maybe. And we bond. Every evening we start up the distant ed machine knowing we aren’t the only one. We have strengths and we can be grouped in a common category. But you can’t draw a circle around us and say there we are. We have this necessary distance component that just won’t reconcile with the notion of a body. I mean, we all exist, share commitments, and submit to the laws of distance ed, but we’re not so physically and tangibly connected, you know.

Think of it this way. If you photographed the higher education scene in Alberta keeping your GPS-o-matic tuned to select the student ID cards of anyone over the age of 18, you’d get some fairly well-defined, blob-like, slowly moving masses at the Universities of Alberta or Calgary, or even at Red Deer College, right? There would be this visible manifestation over some demarcated square meterage, with skinny tendrils moving rapidly outward on the weekends then retracting slowly Sunday nights. You could clearly call any one of these amoeboid patches a student body”?and if you were a bad guy with a nasty laser, you could easily track those bodies. But not so at AU. Oh, we would pervade your world, nasty bad guy. But you would never find us. At AU, you’d get virtually no signal at the home base, loose dotting throughout the province, then ever less concentrated signals as you vainly spread your target out over the roundness of the globe.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying our hearts don’t all beat as one. You know they do. But we’re not doing the Bunny Hop, here, right?. We’re not hanging out in res, eating the same menu at Lister Hall, and cramming for exams together. We all have our own menus, time lines, identities:. The point is, we are so diverse that if we were a body, we would give multiple personality a whole new meaning.

We are, in fact, so not a body that we aren’t even like the components of the Iron Giant after he blew himself up and saved the world from a misfired military missile. All his blown apart self-seeking robot parts set out from around the world to reunite with their centre, to recreate their body. Well, we are all homing in on essentially the same beacon, so that if we ever got together you might call us a body. But the fact is we remain disconnected on so many levels. And that is very, very good because if we did fall into the Iron Giant analogy of a body then we would have to be a dismembered body, which is no better off than being a lased or loony body.

So, if we aren’t a student body, then what are we as we smack open our common study guides in isolation from each other, as we form, seek, and meet common goals without sharing even one little Bunny hop? How should we think of ourselves in this diffuse network of vaguely bonded people who squeeze some academia in on the side, and who, by happenstance, can claim to be virtually unlaseable? We aren’t a student body, because we don’t need that kind of vulnerability. No, instead we are the Athabasca University student soul.

Audrey is a distance ed maven and part-time writer living in the shadow of barren mountains, beside yellow-red lake beds without lakes, amongst the tormented Joshua trees, in the Mojave Desert in the United States. She is finishing her last year of an honours Master of Health Science degree, in preparation for a distance ed PhD in how to get a distance ed PhD. A mother of four, she sporadically sleeps, is in love with fractal math, and has found peace where neuroscience and Java programming meet.