Where is Ferris Bueller?

Just as they did in classrooms in the “before” times, most professors begin their virtual classes by taking attendance. Some call out students’ names, seeking a “here,” a “hi,” a “hello,” or a courteous but rare, “how are you?” Others simply scroll through the list of participants or check off students in the gallery view on Zoom.

Professors may have thought their students showed little sign of life in traditional classrooms. In these cases, they would typically call on students whose minds they suspected were miles away. Now, in Zoom University, professors are even hungrier for active participation among students whose bodies are miles away. But professors can still tell who has checked out while logged on.

In every Zoom class, there are several black squares occupied by a student’s name in white letters, or filled with a green “T” or an orange “A” or a brown “L.” These are the students with their cameras turned off. Some of them are actually there. Some are just too shy to grace the class with their presence. Others are simply having a bad hair day. But they are still seated in front of their screens. Some of them may even be taking notes.

But others have gone away. The giveaway is straight out of the John Hughes 1986 classic movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The teacher cries “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?” but Bueller is nowhere to be found.

Where was Ferris? He was out joyriding with his best friend and girlfriend in a bright red Ferrari, taking in art in a museum, attending a ball game and, oh yeah, boarding a parade float to sing the Top Notes (and later, Beatles) classic “Twist and Shout.”

But where do the Zoom-era Ferris Buellers go? The Met opened a few months ago with limited capacity, baseball stadiums seat cardboard cutouts and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade took place on an otherwise empty 34th street.

Some students admit they are back in bed, asleep. Many are tired, others succumb to the emotional toll of quarantine. Some are multitasking, working on an assignment for another course, tending to a mound of laundry or making a meal. But why would they sign in, only to ignore their professor and ultimately let their class fall by the wayside?

That’s what college students have always done. Generations of students have sat in classrooms they had no desire to be in, ignored professors who sometimes bored them, completed homework assignments while pretending to take notes and thought about the laundry they never finished. 

The only difference is that now – thanks to the coronavirus and Zoom –  they can do it all from the comfort of their beds. And they think they can fool their professors – but they can’t. Because as always, our professors know more than we think they know.