Wednesday, October 17, 2007

207 Musings and Incorporating the Benefits of Distance Ed. (10/17 reading response)

(First, I have to mention one thing: I love the reference to "traditional interpersonal email communication" in the Blair/Hoy piece. Email is being referred to as traditional, and that's totally without irony. And I have no problem at all with it. How awesome is that?)

This post might be a little fractured; that's kind of the day I'm having.

I loved reading about 207 in the Blair/Hoy piece, partially because it's just interesting to see scholarly work about a course that I'm going to be teaching soon. It serves as a bit of a reminder to me about the junctures between the halves of my teacher/scholar identity. Thus far, because of my craft/visual/material rhetoric focus, I haven't really been using the classroom as a source of scholarly material. However, in a class like 207, I might be able to do so. After all, I'm planning a good amount of "non-traditional writing" for the class; some of it is most explicitly visual, which might be a place for me to jump off from in research.

Second, I adore the reminders about the usefulness of this "non-traditional" work that this piece subtly brings out. After all, the students in this 207 section were basically using it as a workshop site to bring together pieces of writing that were vital for their continued education. Those pieces frequently included visual rhetoric in a variety of formats. Yet there was no way on earth that someone could successfull argue that this work was artificial or unrealistic, as some have tried to say about class assignments where students designed webpages.

In some other 207-based thoughts, this week's readings really made me consider some of the benefits offered by the type of tech use that occurs in online classes. The durability of asynchronous interaction, particularly when it comes to group work, could really deal well with some of the problems I've noticed with peer review in my classes. Too often, students either rush through these sessions and don't offer significant input, or they focus on one or two papers and run out of time for those of other group members. Also, I like the close connections between instructor and student or fellow students that can be fostered through the heavy use of alternate means of communicating that are forced by the lack of face-to-face meetings in a class.

Granted, I don't think that online classes are without their flaws. However, they clearly offer some unique advantages to students and instructors both. The problem: How does one get these and other benefits into a traditional classroom?

I have encountered some instructors who seem to think that, for lack of better wording, online work isn't "real" work. They add it on randomly, without it appearing on the syllabus, as a "supplement" to the classroom interaction. The problem I've seen with this is that this "supplement" often takes as much, if not more, time than the work that's going on in class and/or the "official" homework. Particularly when we have a lot of material to cover in a class within a limited timeframe, it seems very possible that students could be overloaded and overwhelmed if all this material were added on to an existing traditional syllabus. Additionally, I hate the lack of respect for the validity of online work that this can show.

So do we cut traditional work from the syllabus? Well, honestly, what can we cut? If we're teaching GSW, there's precious little that we can change in the syllabus anyway. If we're teaching another course, we might still have limited options. Sixteen weeks is not a long time. (And I don't even want to consider what quarters would be like. :::shudder:::)

The only other thing I can wonder is whether or not it might sometimes be a good idea to have some days in traditional classes when students don't have to be in the classroom? Might it be an idea for a three-day-a-week class to meet virtually once every week or two, in order to communicate in a different, and possibly more thoughtful, way?

I realize that there are compromise positions that can be taken here...but I'm not yet sure how I want to negotiate them, particularly when I teach 207.

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