The purpose of this paper is to argue for the sustained need for the physical workplace and real-life encounters in higher education even in the digital age despite being seemingly transformable into the virtual sphere as seen during the COVID-19 situation.
This study is based on a collaborative autoethnography by a group of seven higher educators with an overall 2,134 student encounters during the study’s time span. The authors then connect these practitioner observations with relevant COVID-19-related studies thereby adding to research on higher education as a workplace.
The data suggest that the physical workplace strongly bolsters the personal experience and effectiveness of higher education through contributing to its dynamics. Spaces predetermine the scope and levels of human interaction of teaching and learning. In a physical setting, all senses serve as mediators, whereas, online, only two senses are involved: vision and hearing. The two-dimensional screen becomes a mediator of communications. In the physical space, actors are free to adjust the working space, whereas the online working space is limited and defined by platforms.
Although higher education institutions may indeed fully substitute most practices formerly in a physical setting with online solutions, real-time encounters in the physical working space belong to its deeper raisons d’être.
This paper highlights the necessity of the physical workplace in higher education and describes the depriving potential of the exclusively online higher education teaching setting.